Rayfiel’s novel creates an ominous sense of the evil that men are capable of doing, but its tonal shifts sometimes trip it...

HARMS' WAY

Rayfiel’s novel blends the pulpy with the philosophical as it tells the story of the isolated life of an imprisoned murderer.

Ethan Harms, protagonist and narrator of this unsettling novel, is not a pleasant man. He’s a murderer imprisoned in a Supermax facility alongside other murderers—including one whose book about his killings has made him a minor celebrity—and his interactions with the prison staff, his fellow inmates, and an academic studying the acts of killers make up the bulk of the novel. The book that results finds an uneasy balance between evoking an unquiet mind cut off from the rest of the world and narrating a series of over-the-top scenes of violence. Early on, for instance, one of Ethan’s fellow prisoners kills a man by spinning his head halfway around. Slowly, a number of plot threads take shape: The prison’s warden seeks Ethan’s assistance in obtaining information about an unsolved murder from another prisoner; the academic attempts to get Ethan to reckon with his past deeds; and Ethan attempts to unravel what has happened to his mother outside the prison walls. Rayfiel creates a powerful sense of isolation: As one character quips about the prisoners, “It’s like you’re in Plato’s cave or something.” But the tone wavers somewhat, and some suggestions late in the novel that Ethan may have experienced hallucinations—and thus may not be the most reliable of narrators—add an unwelcome layer of ambiguity to the proceedings. At times, the novel seems interested in exploring the toxic masculinity and broken upbringings of its characters and the horrific consequences of their actions; at others, it opts for a more grindhouse approach.

Rayfiel’s novel creates an ominous sense of the evil that men are capable of doing, but its tonal shifts sometimes trip it up along the way.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-57962-534-4

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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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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The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once...

DELIVER US FROM EVIL

In Baldacci’s 19th (True Blue, 2009, etc.), boy and girl monster-hunters meet cute.

Evan Waller, aka Fadir Kuchin, aka “the Butcher of Kiev,” aka “the Ukrainian psychopath,” is one of those deep-dyed villains a certain kind of fiction can’t do without. Serving with distinction as part of the Soviet Union’s KGB, he joyfully and indiscriminately killed thousands. Now, many years later, posing as a successful businessman, he’s vacationing in Provence where, unbeknownst to him, two separate clandestine operations are being mounted by people who do not regard him with favor. Reggie Campion—28 and gorgeous—spearheads the first, an ad hoc group of monster-hunting vigilantes. Studly, tall Shaw (no first name supplied) is point guard for a rival team, shadowy enough to leave the matter of its origin ambiguous. While their respective teams reconnoiter and jockey for position, studly boy meets gorgeous girl. Monster-hunters are famous for having trust issues, but clearly these are drawn to each other in the time-honored Hollywood fashion. Shaw saves Reggie’s life. She returns the favor. The attraction deepens and heats up to the point where team-members on both sides grow unsettled by the loss of focus, singularly inopportune since, as monsters go, Waller rises to the second coming of Caligula—ample testimony furnished by a six-page, unsparingly detailed torture scene. In the end, the stalkers strike, bullets fly, screams curdle the blood, love has its innings and a monster does what a monster’s got to do.

The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once again show the stuff it’s made of.

Pub Date: April 20, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-446-56408-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Avon A/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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