A thoughtful and discomfiting look at the dark depths of human nature.

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MODEL CHILD

In this thriller, a Chicago psychiatrist tries to figure out why a seemingly mild-mannered middle-aged man murdered his own teenage daughter.

James Shannon is a devoutly Catholic 55-year-old without any history of violence, mental illness, or substance abuse. However, 18 months after the death of his wife of nearly 20 years, he savagely kills his 15-year-old daughter, Christina—an act that’s as inexplicable as it is brutal. Afterward, he calmly pours himself a glass of milk, puts on some music, and calls the police; he confesses his crime to authorities, then falls silent. Hal Gottlieb, a psychiatrist at the Greater Chicago Forensic Institute, examines James, but can find nothing in his history or character that would account for his sudden crime. He speaks to his family members and friends, and they all share the same opinion of his character—nothing but normality. Finally, James breaks his silence and provides a clue to his motive, saying that he killed Christina in order “to save the world from her.” Hal turns his investigative attention to Christina herself and interviews her former camp counselor and a therapist who briefly treated her. The conversations paint a disturbing portrait of a hyper-intelligent loner who was not only indifferent to the suffering of others, but also chillingly drawn to it. Meanwhile, Hal wrestles with his own domestic tumult—his 15-year-old son, Peter, is surly and withdrawn, which eventually places a considerable strain on Hal’s relationship with his wife, Sharon, Peter’s mother. Further complicating matters, he becomes friends with a historian, Cassandra Wirth, for whom he develops a romantic attraction.  Goodwin (The Stephen Hawking Death Row Fan Club, 2015) seamlessly combines a psychological thriller with a philosophical meditation on the existence and meaning of evil. The plot’s suspense builds slowly, but never laboriously, as the author keeps readers tantalized, but never sated, in their thirst for the next revelation. This is a somewhat unconventional mystery, as the perpetrator of the central crime is never in question. Instead, the entire story is a quest for intent—some rational explanation for the initially inscrutable. As a result, the novel hinges on the depth of its characterizations, and on this score, Goodwin doesn’t disappoint. Both James and Hal are marvelously complicated figures—both thoroughly unspectacular in their own ways, but also grappling with the immensity of the concept of evil. Indeed, evil haunts the entire book: “Mankind has always waged a battle to keep his own worst tendencies in check. Sometimes we win this battle, although God knows we often lose it. Maybe part of how we fight the battle is to remind ourselves, over and over, about the presence of evil.” Even Hal’s friendship with Cassandra revolves around this discussion, as her academic specialty is the Holocaust, the 20th century’s grim riposte to any statement of optimism about humanity. Overall, Goodwin has crafted a searching reflection on the subject—one that’s artistically sure-footed and intellectually astute.

A thoughtful and discomfiting look at the dark depths of human nature.

Pub Date: March 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9988039-1-3

Page Count: 267

Publisher: Side Street Press

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2018

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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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