Although Irwin packs his debut novel with fairy-tale and horror-story motifs, the results are lamentably tame.

THE DEAD PATH

A haunted woods, an old witch and the death of several children over a century and a half—Irwin writes a cautionary fairy tale but sets it in contemporary Australia.

Life seems good to Nicholas Close, for he and his wife Cate are very much in love and refurbishing an apartment in London. But one fateful afternoon Cate has a freak accident at home—she falls and dies. Mourning her loss deeply, Nicholas returns to the place where he grew up, in Tallong, a suburb of Brisbane. It turns out that during his childhood there had been the mysterious disappearance and murder of Tristram Boye, a friend of his, and now, on his return, other unnatural things start to happen—a child goes missing, for example, and the brother of his childhood friend shows up on Nicholas’s porch and commits suicide. Not only that, but Nicholas is now literally haunted by ghosts—he becomes able to see people dying. There’s also something uncanny in one of the stores that during Nicholas’s childhood had been run by a creepy old woman. Now Rowena Quill, enigmatic and extremely attractive, runs a health-food store in the same building…but somehow she looks hauntingly familiar. In addition, the woods near this store have long had a spooky and sinister reputation, going back at least till the time when Tristram’s body was discovered. Nicholas starts to poke around in the woods and makes some startling discoveries, some involving spiders the size of small dogs and others involving ritual child-killing to extend the age of a witch. As Nicholas tries to make sense of all this, others inevitably get involved, including his sister, a couple of Anglican clerics, a ten year old who could be the next victim and The Green Man, a menacing pagan deity.

Although Irwin packs his debut novel with fairy-tale and horror-story motifs, the results are lamentably tame.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-385-53343-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2010

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King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

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THE INSTITUTE

The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie.

Tim Jamieson is a man emphatically not in a hurry. As King’s (The Outsider, 2018, etc.) latest opens, he’s bargaining with a flight attendant to sell his seat on an overbooked run from Tampa to New York. His pockets full, he sticks out his thumb and winds up in the backwater South Carolina town of DuPray (should we hear echoes of “pray”? Or “depraved”?). Turns out he’s a decorated cop, good at his job and at reading others (“You ought to go see Doc Roper,” he tells a local. “There are pills that will brighten your attitude”). Shift the scene to Minneapolis, where young Luke Ellis, precociously brilliant, has been kidnapped by a crack extraction team, his parents brutally murdered so that it looks as if he did it. Luke is spirited off to Maine—this is King, so it’s got to be Maine—and a secret shadow-government lab where similarly conscripted paranormally blessed kids, psychokinetic and telepathic, are made to endure the Skinnerian pain-and-reward methods of the evil Mrs. Sigsby. How to bring the stories of Tim and Luke together? King has never minded detours into the unlikely, but for this one, disbelief must be extra-willingly suspended. In the end, their forces joined, the two and their redneck allies battle the sophisticated secret agents of The Institute in a bloodbath of flying bullets and beams of mental energy (“You’re in the south now, Annie had told these gunned-up interlopers. She had an idea they were about to find out just how true that was"). It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps.

King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-1056-7

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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Real events like the Vietnam draft and Stonewall uprising enter the characters' family history as well as a stunning plot...

THE RULES OF MAGIC

The Owens sisters are back—not in their previous guise as elderly aunties casting spells in Hoffman’s occult romance Practical Magic (1995), but as fledgling witches in the New York City captured in Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids.

In that magical, mystical milieu, Franny and Bridget are joined by a new character: their foxy younger brother, Vincent, whose “unearthly” charm sends grown women in search of love potions. Heading into the summer of 1960, the three Owens siblings are ever more conscious of their family's quirkiness—and not just the incidents of levitation and gift for reading each other's thoughts while traipsing home to their parents' funky Manhattan town house. The instant Franny turns 17, they are all shipped off to spend the summer with their mother's aunt in Massachusetts. Isabelle Owens might enlist them for esoteric projects like making black soap or picking herbs to cure a neighbor's jealousy, but she at least offers respite from their fretful mother's strict rules against going shoeless, bringing home stray birds, wandering into Greenwich Village, or falling in love. In short order, the siblings meet a know-it-all Boston cousin, April, who brings them up to speed on the curse set in motion by their Salem-witch ancestor, Maria Owens. It spells certain death for males who attempt to woo an Owens woman. Naturally this knowledge does not deter the current generation from circumventing the rule—Bridget most passionately, Franny most rationally, and Vincent most recklessly (believing his gender may protect him). In time, the sisters ignore their mother's plea and move to Greenwich Village, setting up an apothecary, while their rock-star brother, who glimpsed his future in Isabelle’s nifty three-way mirror, breaks hearts like there's no tomorrow. No one's more confident or entertaining than Hoffman at putting across characters willing to tempt fate for true love.

Real events like the Vietnam draft and Stonewall uprising enter the characters' family history as well as a stunning plot twist—delivering everything fans of a much-loved book could hope for in a prequel.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3747-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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