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THE LOST CAUSES OF BLEAK CREEK

Sure, it’s kind of a rip-off, but it’s scary, it’s fun, and it’s one hell of a carnival ride.

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Comedy duo and YouTube superstars McLaughlin and Neal (Rhett & Link’s Book of Mythicality, 2017) craft a novel about things that go bump in the night.

Stranger Things carries a lot of cultural weight by itself these days—the legacy of Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and the many weird movies and books that don’t get the credit they deserve—but these comedy writers have hit that vein hard with this VHS-era kicker that references the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie Kickboxer on the very first page. This is Bleak Creek, North Carolina, circa the early 1990s. We have three buddies, natch: Rex McClendon, whose dad owns a funeral home; his bestie, Lief Nelson; and their mutual crush, Alicia Boykins. They’re making PolterDog, an indie movie, because why not? Anyone who grew up in this era will be delighted by all the pop-culture references, from Goodfellas to Smokey and the Bandit. Of course, we need some reasonable adults around to help, too, so we get Janine Blitstein, a filmmaker just graduated from NYU film school, and her cousin Donna Lowe. Things get creepy in a hurry when Alicia is banished because of “bad behavior” to a local private school called Whitewood, founded in 1979. The big bad here is Wayne Whitewood, head of the school where every student is robbed of an identity and known only as “Candidatus”—Whitewood is the so-named “Keeper,” assisted by the Nurse Ratched–esque “Helper.” All the students are threatened at every turn by torture, most commonly “The Roll,” in which they’re confined in a carpet for days on end. Of course, there's a rescue mission, but because we’re in that Stephen King territory, there are also a bunch of supernatural threats, including a cursed spring and something known only as “The One Below.”

Sure, it’s kind of a rip-off, but it’s scary, it’s fun, and it’s one hell of a carnival ride.

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984822-13-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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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. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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DARK MATTER

Suspenseful, frightening, and sometimes poignant—provided the reader has a generously willing suspension of disbelief.

A man walks out of a bar and his life becomes a kaleidoscope of altered states in this science-fiction thriller.

Crouch opens on a family in a warm, resonant domestic moment with three well-developed characters. At home in Chicago’s Logan Square, Jason Dessen dices an onion while his wife, Daniela, sips wine and chats on the phone. Their son, Charlie, an appealing 15-year-old, sketches on a pad. Still, an undertone of regret hovers over the couple, a preoccupation with roads not taken, a theme the book will literally explore, in multifarious ways. To start, both Jason and Daniela abandoned careers that might have soared, Jason as a physicist, Daniela as an artist. When Charlie was born, he suffered a major illness. Jason was forced to abandon promising research to teach undergraduates at a small college. Daniela turned from having gallery shows to teaching private art lessons to middle school students. On this bracing October evening, Jason visits a local bar to pay homage to Ryan Holder, a former college roommate who just received a major award for his work in neuroscience, an honor that rankles Jason, who, Ryan says, gave up on his career. Smarting from the comment, Jason suffers “a sucker punch” as he heads home that leaves him “standing on the precipice.” From behind Jason, a man with a “ghost white” face, “red, pursed lips," and "horrifying eyes” points a gun at Jason and forces him to drive an SUV, following preset navigational directions. At their destination, the abductor forces Jason to strip naked, beats him, then leads him into a vast, abandoned power plant. Here, Jason meets men and women who insist they want to help him. Attempting to escape, Jason opens a door that leads him into a series of dark, strange, yet eerily familiar encounters that sometimes strain credibility, especially in the tale's final moments.

Suspenseful, frightening, and sometimes poignant—provided the reader has a generously willing suspension of disbelief.

Pub Date: July 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-90422-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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