Will VanderMeer rally for a grand slam finale? Stay tuned: The last volume is scheduled for September.

AUTHORITY

From the Southern Reach Trilogy series , Vol. 2

After the chills and thrills of Annihilation, published in February 2014, this second volume in VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy—a science fiction/horror hybrid—is an altogether quieter affair.

It had to be once VanderMeer decided to change the venue from Area X to the Southern Reach HQ. Area X is a spooky no man’s land controlled by an unknown entity (aliens?); 1,500 people have died there since its emergence 30 years ago. The Southern Reach is the secret government agency monitoring it, so we get office politics. Its last director, leader of the expedition described in Annihilation, is missing, presumed dead. This volume is narrated by the newly installed acting director, John Rodriguez, who wants to be called Control. That’s ironic, for unlike le Carré’s same-named pooh-bah, this Control’s authority is tenuous. He owes the job to his mother, a powerful figure at Central, and the assistant director, Grace, is determined to undermine him. Moreover, after three decades of failing to solve the riddle of Area X, Southern Reach is a backwater and morale is low; Control’s mission is to shake things up. First he must get a handle on Area X. He interviews the biologist, a survivor of the last expedition and protagonist of Annihilation, but draws a blank. She is stubbornly tight-lipped. He visits the border, bathed in a strange light, and watches video from the doomed first expedition. He reports to the Voice, a person in Central whose gender is disguised by technology. There are some minor frissons, as when Control discovers an unhinged scientist creating a nightmarish mural, but these are slim pickings compared to the horrors of Annihilation (an essential introduction). Nor does he measure up to the biologist in complexity. His background (Honduran sculptor father, multiple postings, multiple girlfriends) seems cobbled together, and the espionage elements, lackluster. Toward the end, there will be a spectacular development, a late reward after all the shadowboxing.

Will VanderMeer rally for a grand slam finale? Stay tuned: The last volume is scheduled for September.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-374-10410-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

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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King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

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THE INSTITUTE

The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie.

Tim Jamieson is a man emphatically not in a hurry. As King’s (The Outsider, 2018, etc.) latest opens, he’s bargaining with a flight attendant to sell his seat on an overbooked run from Tampa to New York. His pockets full, he sticks out his thumb and winds up in the backwater South Carolina town of DuPray (should we hear echoes of “pray”? Or “depraved”?). Turns out he’s a decorated cop, good at his job and at reading others (“You ought to go see Doc Roper,” he tells a local. “There are pills that will brighten your attitude”). Shift the scene to Minneapolis, where young Luke Ellis, precociously brilliant, has been kidnapped by a crack extraction team, his parents brutally murdered so that it looks as if he did it. Luke is spirited off to Maine—this is King, so it’s got to be Maine—and a secret shadow-government lab where similarly conscripted paranormally blessed kids, psychokinetic and telepathic, are made to endure the Skinnerian pain-and-reward methods of the evil Mrs. Sigsby. How to bring the stories of Tim and Luke together? King has never minded detours into the unlikely, but for this one, disbelief must be extra-willingly suspended. In the end, their forces joined, the two and their redneck allies battle the sophisticated secret agents of The Institute in a bloodbath of flying bullets and beams of mental energy (“You’re in the south now, Annie had told these gunned-up interlopers. She had an idea they were about to find out just how true that was"). It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps.

King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-1056-7

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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