Fast, incisive, and audaciously entertaining. Readers may have seen it before, but they’ll likely enjoy it this time around.

READ REVIEW

The Wicked Game

In Smith’s (Alive! Not Dead, 2014) thriller, a man is caught in an adult version of hide-and-seek, complete with rifle-toting players who’ll kill to stay alive.

Brad Jeffries signed up for Game Corp’s infamous competition to win the $10,000 prize. Though the game’s Head Leader has become a celebrity with frequent interviews and best-selling self-help books, no one’s ever seen actual game footage. Nevertheless, a bus transports Brad and 19 other players to an undisclosed neighborhood in Atlanta, where they learn the rules: each round has one seeker, who can take out hiders by shooting them dead with a rifle. Leaders are likewise available to remove players from the game—i.e., by killing them or having them killed—for violating rules, like trying to leave before the game is finished. Brad wants to expose the mysterious game, but now with a promise of a billion dollars for the winner, he may have to spill blood just to avoid losing. Stories such as this have developed their own subgenre, but Smith is fortunately aware of the plot’s familiarity. He wastes no time and dives into the short novel with gusto, opening immediately with Game Corp transporting players. Danger is quickly evident: leaders provide an apt display of how players are “taken from the game” (the game starts with fewer than the initial 20 contestants). Brad’s internal debates consist of questions readers will be asking themselves: the validity of the billion-dollar award, or the possibility of one or more of the players being Game Corp plants. Players are designated by numbers, so most don’t have genuine names, but that doesn’t diminish their impact. For example, Brad never learns the real name of his most formidable (and terrifying) opponent. Never-ending game play also helps maintain a speedy tempo; even brief moments of downtime are intense, because the Head Leader adds new rules whenever he sees fit. Brad’s natural progression into a bloodthirsty competitor, however, is perhaps the story’s most disconcerting aspect. Smith falters only with the ending, which feels rushed. But there’s definite resolution because—for better or worse—the game’s over.

Fast, incisive, and audaciously entertaining. Readers may have seen it before, but they’ll likely enjoy it this time around.

Pub Date: July 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4961-3980-1

Page Count: 200

Publisher: create space

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2015

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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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