An ambitious plot that fails to cohere into either insight or revelation.

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TINFOIL BUTTERFLY

Troubled 22-year-old Emma Powers lands in the middle of a mystery bigger than her own actions when she meets Earl, a feral boy living seemingly alone in the Black Hills of South Dakota, who hides his face behind an elaborate tinfoil mask.

Emma is on the run. Her destination is the Badlands, where she hopes to uphold her end of the suicide pact she made with her stepbrother, Ray. In addition to her filthy Doc Martens and despised “set of double Ds,” she’s carrying with her the baggage of her and Ray’s obsessive relationship, her complicity in his death, the emotional scars of her father’s childhood abandonment, a surgical wound from her recent emergency hysterectomy, and the seeds of a cancer she refuses to treat. She also has a hearty addiction to Vicodin, and, under its fuzzy influence, she hitches a ride with Lowell, a “white dude who thinks tribal tattoos are a grand idea,” who is on his way to kidnap his young daughter and take her to the West Coast. When Lowell’s generally creepy vibe tips over into sexual violence, Emma shoots him and steals his van, leaving him to freeze in the impending blizzard. In search of gas, Emma pulls off at an abandoned diner, and there she meets Earl, an approximately 8-year-old boy who hides behind a tinfoil mask. As Emma struggles to get back on the road, Earl draws her further and further into the secrets that abound in his dark life. We meet George, Earl’s abusive father, whom Earl has attempted to poison with a stolen bottle of Emma’s pills, and learn what exactly is in the cellar Earl would like Emma to throw George into. As the extent of George’s abuse becomes clear, Emma decides to take Earl with her, though she is unclear where her own journey will end—but George and a vengeful Lowell have other plans for them both. Marked by fire and ice, Moulton’s debut insists on upping its ante at every turn. The result is a preponderance of conflagrations that consume not only the ready tinder of the abandoned ghost town Earl calls home, but also all semblance of rational character-building. In spite of the intricate rendering of this cold and remote landscape, the story itself feels false and vague, more like smoke than fire.

An ambitious plot that fails to cohere into either insight or revelation.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-374-53830-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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.

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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