A riveting mystery tale with a compelling lead character.

DOUBLE BLIND

THE ICELANDIC MANUSCRIPT MURDERS

In Winokur’s Iceland-set debut thriller, a forensic scientist’s investigation into her twin brother’s long-ago disappearance may have ties to present-day murders.

The first thing that Brynja Pálsdóttir notices about the mysterious paper scroll she receives at her office is the red ribbon tied around it. It’s just like the one that she wore in her hair as a child—the one that her twin brother, Lúkas, was holding for her on the day he disappeared, 20 years ago. Inside the scroll is an unsigned poem that implies that her “other half” is in a cellar somewhere. Brynja, the busy director of forensic sciences at Legacy Genetics in Southwest Iceland, decides to investigate further, starting with the Book of Möðruvellir—a set of ancient manuscripts that collect Icelandic family sagas, which the poem also cryptically references. However, she finds that her migraine headaches, which she hasn’t had in years, have returned; at the same time, she’s maintaining a secret engagement to Icelandic Prime Minister Ari Ketilsson and also trying to determine what’s wrong with her father, who apparently has some form of dementia. Then, one day, an acquaintance suddenly collapses in her office. He’d eaten doughnuts that someone had anonymously sent to Brynja, and doctors suspect poison. Moreover, she believes that a new poem, which accompanied the doughnuts, is a warning of an imminent attack against the Icelandic Parliament. In the coming days, more verses appear, and more poisonings follow—some of which prove fatal. Certain that Lúkas’ disappearance is connected to the killings, Brynja races to find answers before anyone else gets hurt. Winokur’s story is planted firmly in Icelandic history. For example, Legacy has a national database of DNA profiles of Icelanders—not a criminal database but a repository of “our collective DNA,” as Brynja puts it, which plays a role in the story. The author also sees to it that subplots serve multiple dramatic purposes. For example, citizens’ protests against the databases are a possible threat not only to Brynja’s job, but also to her engagement; an attractive actress named Ásta is stirring up the protests as well as openly flirting with the prime minister. Despite the story’s density, Winokur smartly keeps the focus on the central mystery of the brother’s fate instead of merely compiling a suspect list—and fortunately, the able protagonist rarely lets her debilitating headaches slow her down. As a forensic scientist, she often works with the police department, so she begins the novel looking into an unrelated missing person case. This effectively introduces Detective Superintendent Henning Holt, who makes for a convincing antagonist; he’s barely able to restrain his hostility toward the younger woman, who has the forensic position that he wanted. The best characters, however, are Brynja’s allies, including her reliable, supportive childhood friend Stína and her new, Danish assistant, Elly Sørensen, who helpfully asks frequent questions about Icelandic customs. Winokur’s compact descriptions keep things moving along briskly even when they detail aspects of DNA and RNA testing.

A riveting mystery tale with a compelling lead character.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Anchor House Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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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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