It’s no Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it’s a pleasant-enough diversion.

THE ALTAR OF BONES

Solzhenitsyn meets Dan Brown...sort of.

Deep in the boreal forests of Siberia, conveniently close to one of Stalin’s Gulag camps, lies a cave, and within it an unusual sight: “where it had always been, set into the wall: an ancient altar made out of human bones.” The attraction? Well, things happen before that altar that are downright miraculous, the kind of things that might attract miracle-seekers and power-thirsty types along the lines of that Nazi archaeologist in the first Indiana Jones movie. Naturally, bad things ensue, not least the disappearance of the last “Keeper” at the hands of a very bad NKVD agent, Nikolai Popov, “one tough bastard,” who exults that the cave’s contents are “more valuable than diamonds, more valuable than any make-believe chest of Romanov gold.” Of course: It would never do for a pussycat to be a stone cold commie killer, never do for a secret treasure to be anything less than splendid—or, at any rate worth more than a pretend treasure, whatever that means. Fast-forward 70 years, and now it’s the job of San Francisco legal eagle Zoe Dmitroff and her newfound pal Ry O’Malley, both resourceful and tough as nails, to figure out the altar’s secret even as bad guys—and one notably bad girl, bloody breasts and all—close in. Guess who wins? That part’s easy; it’s figuring out what Marilyn Monroe has to do with the proceedings that might make your head hurt. Carter—a pseudonym, the publisher promises, for “an internationally renowned author”—tells a competent and action-filled story, if one without much attention to detail. (Russians don’t speak with burrs, for instance, unless they’re Sean Connery in the film version of The Hunt for Red October.) There’s lots of sex, lots of violence, lots of meaningful glances across the room and lots of plot twists—all the requisites, in other words, of a by-the-numbers thriller.

It’s no Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it’s a pleasant-enough diversion.

Pub Date: March 18, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4391-9908-4

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2011

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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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The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once...

DELIVER US FROM EVIL

In Baldacci’s 19th (True Blue, 2009, etc.), boy and girl monster-hunters meet cute.

Evan Waller, aka Fadir Kuchin, aka “the Butcher of Kiev,” aka “the Ukrainian psychopath,” is one of those deep-dyed villains a certain kind of fiction can’t do without. Serving with distinction as part of the Soviet Union’s KGB, he joyfully and indiscriminately killed thousands. Now, many years later, posing as a successful businessman, he’s vacationing in Provence where, unbeknownst to him, two separate clandestine operations are being mounted by people who do not regard him with favor. Reggie Campion—28 and gorgeous—spearheads the first, an ad hoc group of monster-hunting vigilantes. Studly, tall Shaw (no first name supplied) is point guard for a rival team, shadowy enough to leave the matter of its origin ambiguous. While their respective teams reconnoiter and jockey for position, studly boy meets gorgeous girl. Monster-hunters are famous for having trust issues, but clearly these are drawn to each other in the time-honored Hollywood fashion. Shaw saves Reggie’s life. She returns the favor. The attraction deepens and heats up to the point where team-members on both sides grow unsettled by the loss of focus, singularly inopportune since, as monsters go, Waller rises to the second coming of Caligula—ample testimony furnished by a six-page, unsparingly detailed torture scene. In the end, the stalkers strike, bullets fly, screams curdle the blood, love has its innings and a monster does what a monster’s got to do.

The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once again show the stuff it’s made of.

Pub Date: April 20, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-446-56408-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Avon A/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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