A wasted opportunity to memorialize the tabloids through fiction.

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TABLOID CITY

The veteran newspaperman and novelist (North River, 2007, etc.) couples a lament for a dying tabloid culture with a cockamamie plot about the murderous rampage of a jihadist; it doesn’t work.

Few writers know the newspaper business as intimately as Hamill; he has reported for and edited New York tabloids. So we feel in safe hands as we enter the newsroom of the fictional New York World in this winter of the Great Recession. Our guide is 71-year-old Sam Briscoe, editor in chief. He’s the novel’s center of gravity as it cycles through some 14 different viewpoints. Hamill uses broad strokes for a big canvas. There’s Cynthia Harding, the love of Sam’s life, a philanthropist in the Brooke Astor mold who’s hosting a fundraising dinner for the library; her black secretary, Mary Lou; Mary Lou’s husband Ali, an anti-terrorist cop; the almost blind artist, Lew; the office cleaner Consuelo, who Lew painted years before in Mexico. They’re all connected to the rest of the large cast. The contrivance is brazen, but less disconcerting than Ali’s son Malik, a would-be street criminal who needs money for his very pregnant teenage girlfriend. He’s also a spiritual brother to the 9/11 terrorists; his thoughts are one long rant, a collection of scraped-together clichés. In due course, besides knocking off an imam, he will murder his mother Mary Lou and her “slave owner” Cynthia. Back at the World, the murders feed “the tabloid joy of murder at a good address.” It’s a good, knowing line, and could have been the trigger for a more focused, credible work. As it is, the joy is clouded by the news that the publisher is closing the paper, moving it online, and also by Sam’s anguish over Cynthia’s death. Hamill ratchets up the melodrama with a climactic confrontation at a mosque turned disco between Malik, now wearing a Semtex vest, and his father. 

A wasted opportunity to memorialize the tabloids through fiction.

Pub Date: May 5, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-316-02075-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2011

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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