A formidable contender in the religious-thriller genre.

THE BOOK OF 21

When a professor of folklore and his student are murdered, a Philadelphia detective is on the case.

Detective John McDonough plays a cat-and-mouse game to find who killed Professor Richard Dunglison and his student Ted Hallman. At the crime scene, the word “Hamlet” is written in blood, and Hallman mumbles “Poor Yorick,” to Dunglison’s severed head just before dying. Prior to Hallman’s death, he was working feverishly on a paper that would reveal the whereabouts of an ancient lost text. McDonough realizes that Hallman’s knowledge is what got him killed and his teacher dismembered. The detective finds Hallman’s notes inside a copy of Hamlet at Hallman’s apartment. In the course of 24 hours—a highly unfeasible time frame for all that ensues—McDonough is immersed in the world of academe: cryptic clues that involve church history, witchcraft, a kidnapping and the missing ancient book that purportedly imparts secret powers. His investigation uncovers that a crooked cop is divulging information to those willing to kill for the book, and although the dirty one stands out among the suspects, Ohl does throw in a few surprising twists. The detective doesn’t know whom to trust as he deciphers the mystery surrounding a sect that broke from the church centuries ago and will stop at nothing to retrieve the lost tome. Amid the intricately plotted, Da Vinci Code-style story, a flirtatious dance develops between the detective and Amy Ritter, Dunglison’s student on whom McDonough relies for historical knowledge surrounding the mysterious Brethren of Roxborough, a local religious group that may hold the answer to the murders. A dizzying assemblage of clues, including a centuries-old letter, a lieutenant’s death and the appearance of an enigmatic woman named Sophia Mezzalura, pervade the first third of the story and lead McDonough and Ritter to an exhumation, where the pace finally accommodates the unraveling of the puzzle. Although some questions remain, such as what power the book purportedly bestows, Ohl delivers on many accounts, including a well-crafted cast, short, snappy chapters that move the action along and a touch of mystery at the end, which lends itself to a sequel. Ohl’s ambitious attempt at this debut novel bodes well for the next installment.

A formidable contender in the religious-thriller genre.

Pub Date: June 29, 2012

ISBN: 978-1477681268

Page Count: 276

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2012

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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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  • New York Times Bestseller

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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Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

BOOK OF NIGHT

A former thief who specialized in stealing magical documents is forced back into her old habits in Black's adult debut.

Charlie Hall used to work as a thief, stealing for and from magicians—or rather, “gloamists.” In this world, gloamists are people with magical shadows that are alive, gaining strength from the gloamists' own blood. A gloamist can learn to manipulate the magic of their shadow, doing everything from changing how it looks to using it to steal, possess a person, or even murder. Gloamists hire nonmagical people like Charlie to steal precious and rare magical documents written by their kind throughout history and detailing their research and experiments in shadow magic. Gloamists can use onyx to keep each other from sending shadows to steal these treasures, but onyx won't stop regular humans from old-fashioned breaking and entering. After Charlie’s talent for crime gets her into too much trouble, she swears off her old career and tries to settle down with her sensible boyfriend, Vince—but when she finds a dead man in an alley and notices that even his shadow has been ripped to pieces, she can’t help trying to figure out who he was and why he met such a gruesome end. Before she knows it, Charlie is forced back into a life of lies and danger, using her skills as a thief to find a book that could unleash the full and terrifying power of the shadow world. Black is a veteran fantasy writer, which shows in the opening pages as she neatly and easily guides the reader through the engrossing world of gloamists, magical shadows, and Charlie’s brand of criminality. There's a lot of flipping back and forth between the past and the present, and though both timelines are well plotted and suspenseful, the story leans a touch too hard on the flashbacks. Still, the mystery elements are well executed, as is Charlie’s characterization, and the big twist at the end packs a satisfying punch.

Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-81219-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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