A fast-paced but credulity-straining tale.



From the Vortmit series , Vol. 1

A police officer investigates a sinister computer program that targets “unfit” people for assassination in this thriller.

A programmer known as Vortmit describes his creation, Clean, as follows: “If the program acquires enough information to declare somebody guilty and unfit for society….That person will die. It might look like a car accident, or a suicide, or a mugging, but the result will be the same. And the Clean program will be behind it,” hiring hitmen or blackmailing others to carry out its missions. In just one week, Clean has been responsible for 1,312 deaths, with more to come. Vortmit’s convoluted scheme involves using the program to ensnare Donald Trump–like New York gubernatorial candidate Carson Miller, who’s running on a platform of cleaning up “the cultural dumpster that America has become.” A police officer named Peggy knows Clean’s terrifying power firsthand; it blackmailed her into killing her own brother, who had a connection to Vortmit—and then her name was added to Clean’s database. She teams up with an FBI agent named Finley to try to shut it down. Lytes’ series launch is part-Westworld in its depiction of deadly technology and part–Black Mirror in its reflections on the power that technology has over our lives: “Why do we put so many decisions into the hands of computers?” Peggy says at one point, in a statement that’s a little too on-the-nose. “To keep us safe? Make our decisions?” It’s never made clear what Vortmit’s motives are for unleashing Clean on the world: “Clean has always been about money,” he says to himself at one point. “And that money will give me the power I need to do what I want.” But what he actually wants is vague. Several characters operate under aliases, which further complicates the narrative, and it frustratingly takes Peggy and company the entire book to make connections that the author reveals to readers early on. Still, the story has a propulsive energy and some neat turns of phrase, such as “mantle count”—the number of constituents at a campaign event who want photographs with a candidate.

A fast-paced but credulity-straining tale.

Pub Date: July 11, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5439-6823-1

Page Count: 418

Publisher: BookBaby

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2019

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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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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.


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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