An exhilarating tale delivered with the pace of a thriller and the wisdom of a grizzled nature guide.

THE RIVER

Two college friends’ leisurely river trek becomes an ordeal of fire and human malice.

For his fourth novel, Heller swaps the post-apocalyptic setting of his previous book, The Dog Stars (2012), for present-day realism—in this case a river in northern Canada where Dartmouth classmates Jack and Wynn have cleared a few weeks for fly-fishing and whitewater canoeing. Jack is the sharp-elbowed scion of a Colorado ranch family, while Wynn is a more easygoing Vermonter—a divide that becomes more stark as the novel progresses—but they share a love of books and the outdoors. They’re so in sync early on that they agree to lose travel time to turn back and warn a couple they’d overheard arguing that a forest fire is fast approaching. It’s a fateful decision: They discover the woman, Maia, near death and badly injured, apparently by her homicidal husband, Pierre. When Wynn unthinkingly radios Pierre that she’s been found alive, Wynn and Jack realize they’re now targets as well. Heller confidently manages a host of tensions—Jack and Wynn becoming suspicious of each other while watching for Pierre, straining to keep Maia alive, and paddling upriver to reach civilization and escape the nearing blaze. And his pacing is masterful as well, briskly but calmly capturing the scenery in slower moments, then running full-throttle and shifting to barreling prose when danger is imminent. (The fire sounds like “turbines and the sudden shear of a strafing plane, a thousand thumping hooves in cavalcade, the clamor and thud of shields clashing, the swelling applause of multitudes….”) And though the tale is a familiar one of fending off the deadliness of the wilderness and one's fellow man, Heller has such a solid grasp of nature (both human and the outdoors) that the storytelling feels fresh and affecting. In bringing his characters to the brink of death (and past it), Heller speaks soberly to the random perils of everyday living.

An exhilarating tale delivered with the pace of a thriller and the wisdom of a grizzled nature guide.

Pub Date: March 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-52187-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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

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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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Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless...

SPLIT SECOND

Two defrocked Secret Service Agents investigate the assassination of one presidential candidate and the kidnapping of another.

Baldacci (The Christmas Train, 2002, etc.) sets out with two plot strands. The first begins when something distracts Secret Service Agent Sean King and during that “split second,” presidential candidate Clyde Ritter is shot dead. King takes out the killer, but that’s not enough to save his reputation with the Secret Service. He retires and goes on to do often tedious but nonetheless always lucrative work (much like a legal thriller such as this) at a law practice. Plot two begins eight years later when another Secret Service Agent, Michelle Maxwell, lets presidential candidate John Bruno out of her sight for a few minutes at a wake for one of his close associates. He goes missing. Now Maxwell, too, gets in dutch with the SS. Though separated by time, the cases are similar and leave several questions unanswered. What distracted King at the rally? Bruno had claimed his friend’s widow called him to the funeral home. The widow (one of the few characters here to have any life) says she never called Bruno. Who set him up? Who did a chambermaid at Ritter’s hotel blackmail? And who is the man in the Buick shadowing King’s and Maxwell’s every move? King is a handsome, rich divorce, Maxwell an attractive marathon runner. Will they join forces and find each other kind of, well, appealing? But of course. The two former agents traverse the countryside, spinning endless hypotheses before the onset, at last, of a jerrybuilt conclusion that begs credibility and offers few surprises.

Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless concoction.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2003

ISBN: 0-446-53089-1

Page Count: 406

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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