Dark South

Stewart’s debut is a collection of short horror stories from the Southern U.S., where ghosts, vampires and the darker side of humanity tend to reside.
Many of these stories can be labeled Southern gothic; most have a gloomy ambiance even when there’s no murder. Characters are unsettling, as with the titular bullied kid who isn’t bullied for long in “Timmy.” But Stewart, with an ample 56 stories, takes the time to examine other genres and does so with competence: There’s romance in “The Bright Side of the Moon,” in which an already-engaged man falls for the girl of his dreams; comedy in “I Write the Song,” with a dispute over songwriting credit that concludes hilariously; and a touch of the sci-fi in “Pally and the Quack,” one of the book’s best stories, in which a doctor in 1936 has a new device for combating cancer, with horribly detrimental effects. Although there are some contemporary settings, the majority of the tales take place in the mid-20th century, and Stewart incorporates the rampant racism and racial segregation of the time. The Southern flair never fluctuates, and the stories, in states such as Texas, Florida and Louisiana, are uniform; the warmer climate in the South, for example, seems inescapable, as the heat and humidity “bake the earth” and aren’t helped much by air conditioning. Likewise, first-person perspectives give the impressions of Southern locals telling stories to friends, almost like an urban legend. There’s the occasional vengeful spirit or creature, but the standouts in the collection often deal with evil found only in humans, including “The Lost Key,” about a young husband worried that a strange custodian has found his lost keys and will go after his wife, and “Six Clues to Marilyn Schaeffer,” in which cryptic notes may lead to a girl who’s been missing for 20 years. Each story has merit, and there aren’t any throwaways, but Stewart might have improved the book by cutting a few from the voluminous collection, perhaps to save for a later book. At this rate, maybe he already has 56 more lined up.

Quite a collection of dark gems; readers looking for somber tales with Southern flair need look no further.

Pub Date: May 12, 2014

ISBN: 978-1491730492

Page Count: 458

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2014

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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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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