Impressively assured and insightful.

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AFTER LIFE

First-novelist Ellis makes an auspicious debut with this imaginatively rendered psychological suspense thriller set in an upstate New York town inhabited entirely by mediums and spiritualists.

Naomi Ash has a secret she's kept for ten years. She knows where a body is buried—not because she's a medium and converses with dead spirits, but because it’s the corpse of her boyfriend, and she's the one who buried it. Now 31, Naomi came to Train Line, New York, where spiritualists live and ply their trade, as a child, when her mother (herself a medium) moved there from New Orleans. Following in her mother's footsteps, Naomi `sees` dead people for a living, although it’s such a meager one that she must also take odd jobs, including baby-sitting and working in a library, to make ends meet. She’s going nowhere and remains haunted by the ten-year-old murder that resulted in her planting a visiting grad student in a secret location. But now that her boyfriend’s body has been found, Naomi knows it's only a matter of time before he's identified and she falls under suspicion. In impeccable prose, Ellis weaves a fascinating tale of guilt and redemption. She also plumbs the depths of spiritualism: What is real and what isn't? Where does life begin, and where, if ever, does it end? “My empty heart was collapsing in on itself,” Naomi muses. “A lonely life is a crime without witnesses, it is a movie playing in a locked theater; can you ever be sure what happens in it? Can you be sure that it happens at all?” Similarly exquisite writing can be found throughout this well-crafted tale. Ellis encourages readers to see their own fears and longings in the eccentric inhabitants of a highly unusual town, reminding us that most differences are simply matters of appearance.

Impressively assured and insightful.

Pub Date: July 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-670-89242-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2000

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This thriller about the pursuit of a serial killer suffers from an unpleasant hero and a glacial pace.

OUTFOX

An FBI agent is determined to catch a man who bilks and murders wealthy women, but the chase goes slowly.

Brown (Tailspin, 2018, etc.) has published 70 bestsellers, and this one employs her usual template of thriller spiked with romance. Its main character, Drex Easton, is an FBI agent in pursuit of a serial killer, but for him it’s personal. When he was a boy, his mother left him and his father for another man, Weston Graham. Drex believes Graham murdered her and that he has killed at least seven more women after emptying their bank accounts. Now he thinks he has the clever Graham—current alias Jasper Ford—in his sights, and he’s willing to put his career at risk to catch him. The women Ford targets are wealthy, and his new prey is no exception—except that, uncharacteristically, he has married her. Talia Ford proves to be a complication for Drex, who instantly falls in lust with her even though he’s not at all sure she isn’t her husband's accomplice. Posing as a would-be novelist, Drex moves into an apartment next door to the Fords’ posh home and tries to ingratiate himself, but tensions rise immediately—Jasper is suspicious, and Talia has mixed feelings about Drex's flirtatious behavior. When Talia’s fun-loving friend Elaine Conner turns up dead after a cruise on her yacht and Jasper disappears, Drex and Talia become allies. There are a few action sequences and fewer sex scenes, but the novel’s pace bogs down repeatedly in long, mundane conversations. Drex's two FBI agent sidekicks are more interesting characters than he is; Drex himself is such a caricature of a macho man, so heedless of ethics, and so aggressive toward women that it’s tough to see him as a good guy. Brown adds a couple of implausible twists at the very end that make him seem almost as untrustworthy as Graham.

This thriller about the pursuit of a serial killer suffers from an unpleasant hero and a glacial pace.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4555-7219-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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MERCY

Despite kilt-wearing characters right out of Brigadoon, Picoult (Picture Perfect, 1995, etc.) persuasively explores a mercy killing in a small Massachusetts town and the subject of spouses who love too much. Wheelock has been home to the tradition-upholding MacDonalds and their hereditary chieftains since the 18th century, when the clan fled Scotland after the British defeated them in battle. Each clan chief has inherited more responsibilities over time, and the current laird Cam MacDonald is, like his father before him, the local chief of police. Cam yearns to travel and, though married, finds wife Allie's devotion stifling. Allie, a florist, has in turn suppressed all of her own opinions and pleasures for the sake of making Cam, whom she adores, happy. As the story begins, another MacDonald, James, has demonstrated his overwhelming love for wife Maggie in a very extreme form: James turns himself in to cousin Cam after admitting that he has smothered Maggie at her request because she was terminally ill with cancer and could no longer stand the pain. While the quality and wisdom of James's devotion to his wife will be tried in public, Allie's love for Cam will also be tested as free spirit Mia arrives in town. Mia has been everywhere and seen all the places Cam dreams of; she is also a whiz with flowers and gets immediately hired by Allie. While Allie helps James's lawyer find witnesses who will attest to his devotion to Maggie (he's now being tried for murder), Cam and Mia have an affair. A heartsick Allie learns of it, throws Cam out, sells all of his belongings, and then tries to forget him. But true love is resilient, and Allie, like James, having learned the price of being ``the one who loves more,'' will now try for greater balance. Overly predictable characters aside, Picoult does manage this time to bring trendy, headline-grabbing themes to life. (Literary Guild alternate selection)

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 1996

ISBN: 0-399-14160-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1996

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