Right off the bat, Tran displays the most admirable and worthwhile gift a serious thriller writer can have: compassion...

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DRAGONFISH

A missing person mystery is delicately entwined with a heartbreaking story of migration and loss.

The Vietnam of the past and the Las Vegas of the present are vividly evoked in this debut novel in which hard-boiled noir is seamlessly blended with reminiscences of exile. A two-fisted policeman from Oakland, California, finds both his life and sense of certainty upended by Suzy, the Vietnamese wife who abandoned him with thwarted desires and unanswered questions. It turns out he’s not the only ex-husband looking for her. She’s now fled from a short-tempered smuggler named Sonny, who’s also a refugee from the fall of Saigon and leans on the reluctant cop hard enough to make him search her last-known whereabouts, Vegas. What the cop finds, to his surprise, is Suzy’s estranged daughter, Mai, a professional poker player who’s something of a tough-talking, hard-boiled case herself; though he also recognizes in Mai more than just a strong physical resemblance to Suzy: “I could see her mother’s stubbornness….All the loneliness that comes with refusing anything sensible the world gives you.” The author intersperses the mercurial tale of the search with long, detailed letters written to Mai by Suzy recounting the wrenching, often perilous passage from Vietnam in the mid-1970s to a Malaysian refugee camp. It is in this testimony that Tran’s writing achieves a fluidity and grace that make you share his enigmatic antiheroine’s aching loss and sense of dislocation. (One of the most resonant of these memories involves using pork fat to help gas up a boat used for escaping Vietnam and how it makes the hungry passengers remember restaurants and kitchens of their past lives.) He's on less solid footing bringing the policeman’s first-person narrative to life but nonetheless skillfully identifies the roots of whatever is stalking Mai, Suzy, and others with recriminations and regrets; much like the Vietnam War itself, which created such torment and whose sorrowful legacy resounds generations later.

Right off the bat, Tran displays the most admirable and worthwhile gift a serious thriller writer can have: compassion toward even the most disreputable of his characters.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-393-07780-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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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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One of those rare thrillers whose answers are even more scarifying than its mysteries.

AFTER ALL I'VE DONE

A middle-aged woman sidelined by a horrific accident finds even sharper pains waiting on the other side of her recuperation in this expert nightmare by Hardy, familiar to many readers as Megan Hart, author of All the Secrets We Keep (2017), etc.

Five months ago, while she was on her way to the hospital with an ailing gallbladder, Diana Sparrow’s car hit a deer on a rural Pennsylvania road. When she awoke, she was minus her gallbladder, two working collarbones (and therefore two functioning arms), and her memory. During a recovery that would’ve been impossible without the constant ministrations of Harriett Richmond, the mother-in-law who’s the real reason Diana married her husband, Jonathan, Diana’s discovered that Jonathan has been cheating on her with her childhood friend Valerie Delagatti. Divorce is out of the question: Diana’s grown used to the pampered lifestyle the prenup she’d signed would snatch away from her. Every day is filled with torments. She slips and falls in a pool of wine on her kitchen floor she’s sure she didn’t spill herself. At the emergency room, her credit card and debit card are declined. She feels that she hates oppressively solicitous Harriett but has no idea why. Her sessions with her psychiatrist fail to heal her rage at her adoptive mother, an addict who abandoned her then returned only to disappear again and die an ugly death. Even worse, her attempts to recover her lost memory lead to an excruciatingly paced series of revelations. Val says Diana asked her to seduce Jonathan. Diana realizes that Cole, a fellow student in her watercolor class, isn’t the stranger she’d thought he was. Where can this maze of deceptions possibly end?

One of those rare thrillers whose answers are even more scarifying than its mysteries.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64385-470-0

Page Count: 310

Publisher: Crooked Lane

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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Now that Coben’s added politics to his heady brew, expect sex and religion to join the mix.

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THE BOY FROM THE WOODS

Coben’s latest darkest-suburbs thriller sets a decidedly offbeat detective on the trail of a crime with overtones unmistakably redolent of once and future presidential elections.

Wilde is called Wilde because nobody’s known his real name from the moment a pair of hikers found him foraging for himself in Ramapo Mountain State Forest 24 years ago. Now over 40, he’s had experience as both a lost boy and a private investigator. That makes him an obvious person to help when his godson, Sweet Water High School student Matthew Crimstein, expresses concern to his grandmother, attorney Hester Crimstein, that his bullied classmate Naomi Pine has gone missing. Matthew doesn’t really want anyone to help. He doesn’t even want anyone to notice his agitation. But Hester, taking the time from her criminal defense of financial consultant Simon Greene (Run Away, 2019) to worm the details out of him, asks Wilde to lend a hand, and sure enough, Wilde, unearthing an unsavory backstory that links Naomi to bullying classmate Crash Maynard, whose TV producer father, Dash Maynard, is close friends with reality TV star–turned–presidential hopeful Rusty Eggers, finds Naomi hale and hearty. Everything’s hunky-dory for one week, and then she disappears again. And this time, so does Crash after a brief visit to Matthew in which he tearfully confesses his guilt about the bad stuff he did to Naomi. This second disappearance veers into more obviously criminal territory with the arrival of a ransom note that demands, not money, but the allegedly incriminating videotapes of Rusty Eggers that Dash and Delia Maynard have had squirreled away for 30 years. The tapes link Rusty to a forgotten and forgettable homicide and add a paranoid new ripped-from-the-headlines dimension to the author’s formidable range. Readers who can tune out all the subplots will find the kidnappers easy to spot, but Coben finds room for three climactic surprises, one of them a honey.

Now that Coben’s added politics to his heady brew, expect sex and religion to join the mix.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4814-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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