This urban fantasy’s got a quick wit and a thick mood.

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THE DEAD SEED PROJECT

Cole’s noir fantasy sees an assassin turn against those who pay him while preparing the ultimate revenge.

In Old Detroit City, Diego Valerius Vega kills criminals. The city’s evil Masterminds pay him well to take “unwanted garbage off the street.” His rage traces back to a campground in Montana where, at age 9, he witnessed his mother’s violent death at the hands of the one currently known as his Arch Nemesis. Within a week, the end of a 20-year cycle will reopen the Rift and return this Monster to the campground. Diego has been living only to avenge his mother, but according to junkie Billy Gums, something’s happened to Bess Smith, a prostitute Diego has sworn to protect. Billy eventually reveals that Bess had been working a Supervillain’s private party when things got rough. Diego and his partner, Berny Duende, check the girl’s apartment to no avail. The heroes pay one of her neighbors, the keen-eared Eleanor, to call if Bess returns. Then they head to a strip club run by Frannie, the woman who took in Diego after his mother’s murder. The crime fighters learn that Oliver Brighton (of the infamous Brighton boys) and his gang pummeled Bess. Diego hopes to find Bess and settle up with Oliver before his showdown with his Arch Nemesis in Montana. Fortunately, the duo has unusual skills. Diego can shape-shift and Berny has visions prompted by certain smells, but neither anticipates the tempest fate has in store. Though Cole’s (The Burden of Memory, 2016, etc.) latest may seem like a straightforward urban fantasy, it dives deeper into the characters’ psychologies than readers may expect. Berny, the narrator, is tortured by memories of the enigmatic Whitecoats who gave him powers when they “opened that hidden door to [his] skull and flipped on their secret switches.” Diego, a successful albeit murderous riff on Batman, uses flames, smoke, and claws to dole out justice. Yet Cole winks at the strict superhero dynamics that fans love to dissect, like the exact nature of the bats and red spiders with which Diego assaults criminals (“They descend…like the breath of God”). Instead he focuses on pulpy atmospherics, crafting startling visual moments and prose that revel in depravity (“Her left iris looks like a blue gem resting on a bed of red velvet”). Cole scales back the roaming dialogue that flavored his previous works but unleashes Berny’s bristly commentary: “The air reeks of sulfur and despair and hopelessness.” The narrator wonders whether Diego can “save the ones you love” and still “suckle the breast of Vengeance.” Such flamboyantly noirish lines put him in good company with Frank Miller, artist and writer of the Sin City graphic novels. Overall, Cole remembers to ground Old Detroit as a human place, like when an “old couple” feverishly makes out in Frannie’s club. Only in the grim finale is the book’s title explained, as he pushes his characters toward their least expected destinies.

This urban fantasy’s got a quick wit and a thick mood.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 293

Publisher: Caelstone Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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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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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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