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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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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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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