King Daniel

GASPARILLA KING OF THE PIRATES

The disappearance of a Tampa Bay blue blood rattles the skeletons in his family’s closet.

In Johnson’s first novel, it’s the summer of 1972, and Daniel Westcott, 68, has been named king of the pirates, to be crowned at the annual Gasparilla Queen’s Party. But Westcott, who has never missed a Queen’s Party, fails to attend his own coronation, and his enigmatic absence prompts an uneasy homecoming of his grandchildren, Becca, 21, an aspiring Broadway musical actress, and her estranged brother, Kurt. Their addled mother, Julia, lives on the family estate and is considered by most to be “more than a little ‘touched’ in the head.” The early ’70s setting, with references to the Vietnam War protests and the Kent State shootings, reflects the inner turmoil of the Westcott family. As the search for the patriarch unfolds, the mystery deepens. Can it be related to an old financial scandal? Were he and his boat seized by smugglers? Was it a hallucination, or did Julia see her mother, Natalie, shoot her father? “Trust me: he’s alive,” a friend consoles Becca. “But what he’s up to now has the whole town guessing.” And the reader, too. But, as Becca predicts at one point: “The truth will be known.” Johnson writes with a vivid sense of place (“The breeze off the bay was sweet, heavy with the scent of confederate jasmine”) and offers a Wolfe-ian (as in Tom, but without the stylistic brio) portraiture of ’70s-era Tampa Bay high society. “Much of the town’s old wealth was dwindling,” she writes of the Westcotts’ once-grand estate. “Those in that circumstance took pride in the quiet beauty of a home’s chipped and weathered features. They went so far as to scoff at the nouveau riche with their freshly painted soffits and shutters.” The family dysfunction compellingly plays like something out of a Douglas Sirk melodrama, like Written on the Wind, complete with hidden agendas, ghosts, revelatory family diaries, and deepest, darkest secrets. The author populates this forlorn family’s saga with a breadth of memorable characters who occupy disparate rungs on Tampa Bay society’s ladder, including Eula and Niobe, the family’s longtime caretaker and her daughter, and Police Chief Feo Salazar, who knows a thing or two about Westcott’s more unsavory predilections. A gripping tale of a missing patriarch in 1970s Florida; an auspicious debut.

Pub Date: July 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5043-5986-3

Page Count: 344

Publisher: BalboaPress

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2017

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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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