Vivid, pithy tales that are, by turns, amusing and appalling.

REVENGE

TALES BEST READ IN THE TWILIGHT HOURS

In this short story collection, characters find themselves in eerie, disturbing, and revenge-fueled circumstances.

Brantley Feldpausch, in the particularly memorable “Daddy Longlegs,” is quite fond of the spiders at his New York farmhouse. But when he inadvertently kills a beloved arachnid during a shower, the spiders see it as outright murder and plot their vengeance. Many of the tales here are equally dark, even when they don’t belong to the horror genre. In the case of “Soiled Utility: A Love Story,” a heart surgeon reluctantly falls for a maintenance worker at her hospital. It’s an unorthodox but romantic tale that takes an unexpectedly grim turn. Similarly, “Malapert’s Dilemma” is pure SF, following Valencia Malapert, of the planet Oxyplesbia, who may not be the only alien gathering information on Earth. Revenge, though a recurring theme, doesn’t propel every story. One example is the pre–World War II “Little Green Eye,” in which a radio show ultimately leads to an otherworldly—and terrifying—encounter for a Chicago retiree and his cat. Bachelder paints his tales with vibrant details: “The clapboards were warped and discolored from years of exposure to the rugged Vermont winters, and a portion of the roof over the wrap-around porch was caved in and near collapse.” At the same time, there’s a healthy share of gruesome imagery, like spewing vomit and cadaver-related acts. In the penultimate story, “The Doomsday Hour,” Reginald Conklin is a death row inmate in New Jersey. With his execution on the horizon, he can’t anticipate the surprising events unfolding in the prison, culminating in an especially gut-churning conclusion. This is unquestionably a collection readers won’t easily forget, with a cast that includes a freelance embalmer on the lam and a tankful of lobsters whose escape comes with retribution against a loathsome night-shift manager.

Vivid, pithy tales that are, by turns, amusing and appalling. (dedication, preface)

Pub Date: April 1, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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

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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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