Except for some occasional ill-advised foreshadowing, Harper’s businesslike prose, more John Lutz than John D. MacDonald,...

DEATH BENEFIT

The whole insurance racket is one big, unregulated scam, Harper notes—and he’s got some unpleasant facts to back him up—but smiling Jim Hartman, of Bethlehem Casualty & Life, is running a series of scams that go even further. Hartman pushes high-premium burial insurance to ghetto moms, cancels low-risk policies without notifying his clients and pockets years’ worth of premiums, and buys off the lawsuits brought against him by the few bereaved relatives he can’t con into accepting his sad tale of how the departed must have cancelled the policy or borrowed against it himself. His latest con is to murder victims whose deaths can be disguised as accidents and then goad their estates into launching wrongful-death suits that will include a payout for him. One day, Philadelphia reporter-turned-avenger George Gray (Final Fear, 1993, etc.) implicates Hartman in the refusal to pay off the insurance claim of his late ex-lover Karen Murphy, and from that point on, it’s a fight to the death, as Gray patiently assembles evidence against Hartman—not so he can get him arrested and tried, but so that he can extort a fat settlement for the families Hartman preyed on—and Hartman calmly calls Gray’s bluffs, reveals the patsy he’s set up to take the rap for him, and reminds Gray how good an investment life insurance would have been for the nuisances who thought they could cross swords with him before.

Except for some occasional ill-advised foreshadowing, Harper’s businesslike prose, more John Lutz than John D. MacDonald, makes the whole fairy tale even more chilling. You’ll be demanding receipts from your own insurance agent.

Pub Date: July 12, 2000

ISBN: 0-684-86917-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2000

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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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