Winning, spontaneous and blood-real characters triumph over a far-fetched plot.

READ REVIEW

THE STRANGER HOUSE

Suspense master Hill (Good Morning, Midnight, 2004, etc.) brings together a young Australian woman seeking her true parentage and a Spanish priest manqué in one creepy Cumbrian town.

Hailing from these strange Northern English parts, Hill knows the area well and hinges his story on several unpleasant bits of national history given imaginary local developments. The forced emigration of English orphans, for example: Samantha (Sam) Flood, a young Australian mathematics student at Cambridge, learns that her grandmother was probably pregnant at 12 years of age, in 1960, when she was shipped out from the town of Illthwaite (“an ill name for an ill place” says a disenchanted transplant). Brash, outspoken Sam appears in the village to check things out. No one in Illthwaite will talk to her at first, yet she gradually learns through reluctant confessions by descendants of the families concerned that her gran was raped by local boys, then hustled out of town. At the same time, seminarian Miguel (Mig) Madero, son of a Cádiz winegrower, arrives in town in search of material that he can incorporate into his doctoral dissertation. Mig has chosen the priesthood because of his spiritual visions, which involve stigmata and deep-seated memories. His visions are grounded in Illthwaite history. Mig unearths written testimonies about the horrible fate of a certain Spanish boy, his namesake, shipwrecked during the ill-fated Armada in 1588 and then enslaved by the nasty Gowder family. When discovered in flagrante with lonely wife Jenny Gowder, Miguel was crucified and left to die. (Jenny secretly cut him down.) There’s plenty of bad stuff still going on in this secretive village, but the dark climax is attractively mitigated by the growing warmth between recalcitrant Sam and sensitive virgin Mig, who recognizes that he’s not cut out for the priesthood after all.

Winning, spontaneous and blood-real characters triumph over a far-fetched plot.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-082081-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2005

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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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