SHADE OF THE TREE

Widower Joshua Pinson and his two children come to live on a rural Florida homestead, bequest of his eccentric uncle Elijah. The property is dominated by a huge live oak tree, beneath whose branches Elijah built a solar-powered house. Unsettlingly, Elijah met his end in a bizarre accident with a chain saw—and the locals tell Joshua that the place is haunted. Sure enough, the fatal chain saw exudes an aura of menace, and soon Joshua experiences various apparitions: a ghost train; the screams of a girl who was raped beneath the tree (she, however, is still alive !); a ghostly rifle shot (a hunter committed suicide beneath the tree); the ghost of Elijah's mistress (but she's still alive too). Undaunted, Joshua refurbishes the house and engages a housekeeper; but the latter, inexplicably threatened by the Pinsons' normally placid dogs, soon quits. An elderly neighbor dies nearby, apparently of fright. The housekeeper is replaced by the nubile Brenna, who loves kids and likes her chances of marrying Joshua. Then Brenna sees the ghosts too: one of the kids is attacked by phantom bloodsucking bugs; Elijah's pony, tethered outside, goes berserk and tries to break into the house; one of the dogs attacks a steer and gets thoroughly stomped; a vile stench and a hot, looming presence leads Joshua to suspect the depredations of a Skunk Ape, Florida's equivalent of Bigfoot. Belatedly, Joshua realizes that the tree is the source of all the weird goings-on. But the promised showdown never happens; instead, the story subsides into a footling conclusion involving telepathy and an unsuspected sinkhole. Serviceable ideas, then, and a solid plot moved briskly along in Anthony's fluent, not to say facile, style—and spiced by some genuinely frightening moments. A persuasive performance—the limp wrap-up notwithstanding—that should swell the ranks of Anthony's already huge audience.

Pub Date: April 7, 1986

ISBN: 0812531035

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1986

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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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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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