by William Frank ‧ RELEASE DATE: Feb. 12, 2023
A creepy and entertaining tale about a misbegotten quest to cheat death.
Awards & Accolades
Two men vie for the job of detecting people who’ve been buried alive in Frank’s gonzo fantasy tale.
This yarn unfolds in a vaguely Eastern European village where a Grave Listener named Volushka plies his trade: camping out next to fresh graves and listening, by way of a tube poked into a buried coffin, for sounds that indicate that an apparently deceased person has revived. Volushka spends solitary, uneventful days boozing and sleeping in the cemetery, but at night he must fend off the ghosts, witches, and vampires who frequent the area. He’s also vehemently disliked by the local villagers. He’s a large, imposing man with a room-emptying odor and a propensity for nasty jibes: “was she prone to lunatic, farting rampages?” he queries a bereaved family. He’s also regularly beaten by everyone from a brothel proprietor to an old woman at a well to a 5-year-old boy named Benzi with whom he endlessly trades juvenile barbs. Volushka’s life is disrupted when a stranger named Marcabrusa appears and decides to take over his cushy gig. Swayed by the new arrival’s silver tongue, the townsfolk beat Volushka unconscious and give the listening job to Marcabrusa, who promptly unearths nine buried-alive villagers felled by a mysterious epidemic. Volushka repairs to the swampy lair of the Witch of Gore Mal Gore and, after a horrifying sexual encounter, obtains a magic powder that temporarily makes a person appear to be dead. He then hatches a plot to stage a listening showdown between himself and Marcabrusa over the graves of two twin girls.
Frank’s novel has the grotesquerie of a Tim Burton movie, the droll corruption of a Mark Twain story (camouflaged by pompous oratory), and the cheerful brutality of a Punch and Judy show. The characters have few redeeming qualities; Volushka is a loathsome tangle of grandiosity, cowardice, and hypocrisy; he has a conniving intellect, but is also profoundly stupid. However, he’s humanized by his inability to dissemble and scheme just as well as his adversaries. The narrative is certainly over the top, but Frank manages to mine comedic gold in scenes that combine verbal fireworks with clever slapstick. In one hilarious bit, Volushka and Benzi are forced to translate their usual screaming match into silent pantomime beside the bed of two slumbering villagers. For all its farcical elements, the novel also gets at themes of belonging, loneliness, and the paranoia of small, insular groups panicked by superstition and sudden disaster. Frank’s prose is elegant and vivid, but the more pungent details are always at the service of character and meaning, as in a sketch of the witch, who likes Volushka’s looks: “The form of a body slowly emerged from a flickering mist, surrounded by a poisonous corona. A croaking, ancient, hollow voice pulled itself out of a raspy echo and shivered in its loneliness, wroth and infernal grief. ‘You’re a plump one.’ ” The result is an inventive, mordantly funny story with a blighted but yearning soul.A creepy and entertaining tale about a misbegotten quest to cheat death.
Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2023
Page Count: 144
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services LLC
Review Posted Online: July 20, 2023
Review Program: Kirkus Indie
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by Stephen King ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 5, 2023
Loyal King stans may disagree, but this is a snooze.
A much-beloved author gives a favorite recurring character her own novel.
Holly Gibney made her first appearance in print with a small role in Mr. Mercedes (2014). She played a larger role in The Outsider (2018). And she was the central character in If It Bleeds, a novella in the 2020 collection of the same name. King has said that the character “stole his heart.” Readers adore her, too. One way to look at this book is as several hundred pages of fan service. King offers a lot of callbacks to these earlier works that are undoubtedly a treat for his most loyal devotees. That these easter eggs are meaningless and even befuddling to new readers might make sense in terms of costs and benefits. King isn’t exactly an author desperate to grow his audience; pleasing the people who keep him at the top of the bestseller lists is probably a smart strategy, and this writer achieved the kind of status that whatever he writes is going to be published. Having said all that, it’s possible that even his hardcore fans might find this story a bit slow. There are also issues in terms of style. Much of the language King uses and the cultural references he drops feel a bit creaky. The word slacks occurs with distracting frequency. King uses the phrase keeping it on the down-low in a way that suggests he probably doesn’t understand how this phrase is currently used—and has been used for quite a while. But the biggest problem is that this narrative is framed as a mystery without delivering the pleasures of a mystery. The reader knows who the bad guys are from the start. This can be an effective storytelling device, but in this case, waiting for the private investigator heroine to get to where the reader is at the beginning of the story feels interminable.Loyal King stans may disagree, but this is a snooze.
Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2023
Page Count: 464
Review Posted Online: July 13, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2023
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SEEN & HEARD
by Michael Connelly ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 7, 2023
The most richly accomplished of the brothers’ pairings to date—and given Connelly’s high standards, that’s saying a lot.
Harry Bosch and the Lincoln Lawyer team up to exonerate a woman who’s already served five years for killing her ex-husband.
The evidence against Lucinda Sanz was so overwhelming that she followed the advice of Frank Silver, the B-grade attorney who’d elbowed his way onto her defense, and pleaded no contest to manslaughter to avoid a life sentence for shooting Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Roberto Sanz in the back as he stalked out of her yard after their latest argument. But now that her son, Eric, is 13, old enough to get recruited by local gangs, she wants to be out of stir and at his side. So she writes to Mickey Haller, who asks his half-brother for help. After all his years working for the LAPD, Bosch is adamant about not working for a criminal defendant, even though Haller’s already taken him on as an associate so that he can get access to private health insurance and a UCLA medical trial for an experimental cancer treatment. But the habeas corpus hearing Haller’s aiming for isn’t, strictly speaking, a criminal defense proceeding, and even a cursory examination of the forensic evidence raises Bosch’s hackles. Bolstered by Bosch’s discoveries and a state-of-the-art digital reconstruction of the shooting, Haller heads to court to face Assistant Attorney General Hayden Morris, who has a few tricks up his own sleeve. The endlessly resourceful courtroom back-and-forth is furious in its intensity, although Haller eventually upstages Bosch, Morris, and everyone else in sight. What really stands out here, however, is that Connelly never lets you forget, from his title onward, the life-or-death issues behind every move in the game.The most richly accomplished of the brothers’ pairings to date—and given Connelly’s high standards, that’s saying a lot.
Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023
Page Count: 400
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023
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