A dark, coiled-up ramble through the woods, as quick and cutting as a razor blade.

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BLACK HEART ON THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL

Three damaged travelers connect with each other on a pilgrimage to trek over 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

A pilgrimage is usually a good thing. Dig the whimsical adventures of Bill Bryson’s trek in A Walk in the Woods or the heartwarming Emilio Estevez film, The Way, about the Camino de Santiago? This is not either of those stories. This is vicious backwoods noir in the tradition of Daniel Woodrell and Cormac McCarthy, and experienced hiker Forrester (Miracles, Inc., 2010) is damned good at his job. We open in the desolation of a village in rural Wyoming, where ex-con Taz Chavis is so messed up he finds himself feeling up a local barfly’s wooden leg. “That’s what the gutter does to a guy, eats him to the bone,” Forrester writes. Leaving town with still-raw memories of his cokehead girlfriend, Chavis swears to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail or die trying. Along the way, we meet Richard Nelson, a Native American who claims to be a shaman among his people. “White man, if you want to get laid on the trail, you best come up with some New-Age shit mixed with nature,” Richard advises. These guys seem all shades of normal compared with good citizen Simone Decker, who has a real thing for sharing high cliffs with other hikers (read: potential victims). “She’s here because she’s convinced herself that no one can thru-hike the Appalachian Trail and be the same person as when they started,” Forrester writes. “She hopes change will arrive like an erupting volcano, melting her genes so completely that when they cool she’ll become someone else entirely.” With bodies broken in trees and first-person plummets to death, the whole thing is, as our man Hobbes said, nasty, brutish and short. But for fans of snakebite prose, this is your book.

A dark, coiled-up ramble through the woods, as quick and cutting as a razor blade.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4391-7561-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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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