There’s never been a novel quite like Declare (though comparisons to Neal Stephenson’s recent Cryptonomicon will doubtless...

DECLARE

Powers, for more than 20 years the reigning king of adult historical fantasy (Earthquake Weather, 1997, etc.), surpasses himself—and enters richly promising new territory—with this intricate, inventive tale of Cold War skullduggery and close encounters with malevolent supernatural entities.

The increasingly Byzantine action begins in 1963, when a telephone message delivered in code draws Oxford lecturer (and “retired” secret agent) Andrew Hale back into an intrigue that dates from his wartime service. The narrative thereafter shifts among that present time and several past sequences—the most crucial being a 1948 disaster on Mount Ararat, when men under Hale’s command were slaughtered by enemy forces not of this earth. As Hale reenters the duplicitous world of international espionage, Powers gradually reveals the hidden meanings of his former relationships with sinister “contacts” (such as his superior at Whitehall, double-talking James Theodora, and wily Armenian powerbroker Hakob Mammalian); femme fatale Elena Cezina-Bendiga, a Spanish Civil War heroine and passionate Communist (“The Soviet State is my husband, and I am a devoted, obedient wife”); and the historical Kim Philby, the notorious double agent, whose career and personal history eerily parallel Andrew Hale’s. T.E. Lawrence also figures here, as do the biblical Ark and various personages and (shifting) “shapes” from The Arabian Nights, as the story careens across Europe and the Middle East, with illuminating side trips to Berlin, Paris, and London during WW II. All this is expertly linked to Operation Declare, designed by British Intelligence to subvert “the Soviet attempt to awaken what slept uneasily on the top of Mount Ararat” and unleash its destructive powers. Echoes of Pynchon’s V and Gravity’s Rainbow (there are many) aside, this is an exciting work, of great originality—and its force is heightened by the skill with which the elusive Philby is characterized and Hale and Elena both made believably complex and potentially tragic figures.

There’s never been a novel quite like Declare (though comparisons to Neal Stephenson’s recent Cryptonomicon will doubtless be made): one of the protean Powers’s most absorbing and rewarding creations.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-380-97652-8

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2000

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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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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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