A disturbing, eerily timed novel but no page-turner.

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THE END OF OCTOBER

As a lethal virus of unknown origin ravages huge swaths of the planet, legendary American disease fighter Henry Parsons heads up increasingly hopeless attempts to control it.

The easily transmitted disease, which literally turns its victims blue, is first detected in a refugee camp in Indonesia, "hothouse of diseases." Sent there by the World Health Organization, Parsons quickly recognizes the dangers at hand but not quickly enough to prevent his infected local driver from leaving the camp to join some 3 million worshipers on the annual hajj. When attempts at quarantines in Mecca fail and the infected pilgrims return home, they carry the disease all over the globe. In light of the relatively few disease-related deaths in Russia, suspicions arise that the virus was bioengineered by Putin. The Russian leader, of course, blames America, where cities and institutions begin crumbling. After blood drips from the eyes of the president, midspeech, and the vice president is infected, the ill-prepared government is driven into an underground facility in Virginia. (CNN's Anderson Cooper apparently perishes but not Wolf Blitzer, who still commands The Situation Room.) Featuring accounts of past plagues and pandemics, descriptions of pathogens and how they work, and dark notes about global warming, the book produces deep shudders. Wright, author of acclaimed nonfiction such as The Looming Tower (2006), about the Sept. 11 attacks, knows his way around geopolitical terror, but he's less successful as a thriller writer, upstaged here by the recent, real-life coronavirus. There is little true suspense in the novel, which sketches in its nightmarish scenarios rather than dramatizing them. Even a suicide bombing has marginal impact. Ultimately, the book gets caught up in family drama, sentimentality, and end-of-the-world moralizing. An atheist since his missionary parents were killed in an air crash, Parsons rediscovers religion.

A disturbing, eerily timed novel but no page-turner.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-65865-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

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BILLY SUMMERS

The ever prolific King moves from his trademark horror into the realm of the hard-boiled noir thriller.

“He’s not a normal person. He’s a hired assassin, and if he doesn’t think like who and what he is, he’ll never get clear.” So writes King of his title character, whom the Las Vegas mob has brought in to rub out another hired gun who’s been caught and is likely to talk. Billy, who goes by several names, is a complex man, a Marine veteran of the Iraq War who’s seen friends blown to pieces; he’s perhaps numbed by PTSD, but he’s goal-oriented. He’s also a reader—Zola’s novel Thérèse Raquin figures as a MacGuffin—which sets his employer’s wheels spinning: If a reader, then why not have him pretend he’s a writer while he’s waiting for the perfect moment to make his hit? It wouldn’t be the first writer, real or imagined, King has pressed into service, and if Billy is no Jack Torrance, there’s a lovely, subtle hint of the Overlook Hotel and its spectral occupants at the end of the yarn. It’s no spoiler to say that whereas Billy carries out the hit with grim precision, things go squirrelly, complicated by his rescue of a young woman—Alice—after she’s been roofied and raped. Billy’s revenge on her behalf is less than sweet. As a memoir grows in his laptop, Billy becomes more confident as a writer: “He doesn’t know what anyone else might think, but Billy thinks it’s good,” King writes of one day’s output. “And good that it’s awful, because awful is sometimes the truth. He guesses he really is a writer now, because that’s a writer’s thought.” Billy’s art becomes life as Alice begins to take an increasingly important part in it, crisscrossing the country with him to carry out a final hit on an errant bad guy: “He flopped back on the sofa, kicked once, and fell on the floor. His days of raping children and murdering sons and God knew what else were over.” That story within a story has a nice twist, and Billy’s battered copy of Zola’s book plays a part, too.

Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982173-61-6

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once...

DELIVER US FROM EVIL

In Baldacci’s 19th (True Blue, 2009, etc.), boy and girl monster-hunters meet cute.

Evan Waller, aka Fadir Kuchin, aka “the Butcher of Kiev,” aka “the Ukrainian psychopath,” is one of those deep-dyed villains a certain kind of fiction can’t do without. Serving with distinction as part of the Soviet Union’s KGB, he joyfully and indiscriminately killed thousands. Now, many years later, posing as a successful businessman, he’s vacationing in Provence where, unbeknownst to him, two separate clandestine operations are being mounted by people who do not regard him with favor. Reggie Campion—28 and gorgeous—spearheads the first, an ad hoc group of monster-hunting vigilantes. Studly, tall Shaw (no first name supplied) is point guard for a rival team, shadowy enough to leave the matter of its origin ambiguous. While their respective teams reconnoiter and jockey for position, studly boy meets gorgeous girl. Monster-hunters are famous for having trust issues, but clearly these are drawn to each other in the time-honored Hollywood fashion. Shaw saves Reggie’s life. She returns the favor. The attraction deepens and heats up to the point where team-members on both sides grow unsettled by the loss of focus, singularly inopportune since, as monsters go, Waller rises to the second coming of Caligula—ample testimony furnished by a six-page, unsparingly detailed torture scene. In the end, the stalkers strike, bullets fly, screams curdle the blood, love has its innings and a monster does what a monster’s got to do.

The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once again show the stuff it’s made of.

Pub Date: April 20, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-446-56408-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Avon A/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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