An often entertaining series entry with several new and engaging characters.

GOTCHA

Enigmatic programmer Vortmit returns in this second entry in Lytes’ thriller series, involving a drug dealer, a tech millionaire, and a pill-popping lawyer on the South Carolina coast.

After causing a car collision, real estate attorney Gretchen Donovan fakes her death rather than face a disciplinary board for embezzlement, jury tampering, bribery, and other misdeeds. Then a stranger approaches her, thinking she’s someone else, and asks, “Are you still okay to do the drop?” She receives a bag and a briefcase, but she’s unaware that they belong to drug-dealing criminal Garrison Buchan, who’s infuriated when the real pickup guy, Oscar, ends up empty-handed. Meanwhile, Gretchen’s estranged sister, Rainey, hopes to reconnect with her sibling. Vortmit wants Rainey’s popular, million-dollar app, Gotcha—specifically, its “GPS linked proprietary DNA identification software.” After Gretchen’s pill-induced fog wears off, she injects one of the syringes she finds inside the briefcase, which contain an unknown white substance. The cops already have eyes on Oscar, as they know that he’s working for a drug dealer. Adding to the chaos is Vortmit, who tries to take down Garrison on his own to “exact justice that society couldn’t”—and temporarily silence his own mysterious, violence-filled dreams. Vortmit, the star of the previous series installment, appears only sporadically here and has little bearing on the plot. Still, the other players are appealingly vibrant, including sympathetic Oscar, an eccentric psychic named Lenny, and Gretchen, who undergoes a transformation of sorts after repeated injections of the mysterious substance. Despite the large cast, Lytes provides a mostly easy-to-follow plot that’s frequently witty; at one point, for example, the third-person narration defines a breakup as a “sudden yank at the ejection seat of their relationship.” Some aspects are confusing, though, such as Vortmit’s murky backstory and the appearances of Raoul and Jose, who headline their own chapter before promptly vanishing from the novel.

An often entertaining series entry with several new and engaging characters.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 377

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2020

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A bloody and grotesque but ultimately entertaining and inspiring take on horror movies, trauma, and self-determination.

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THE FINAL GIRL SUPPORT GROUP

Serial killer survivors are forced to cooperate when they’re dragged screaming back into jeopardy.

You have to give it to Hendrix, author of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires (2020), for tapping into his deep knowledge of horror films and fiction to find a new angle on the tropes of terror with every outing. In the same way Edgar Cantero lampooned Scooby Doo in Meddling Kids (2017), this scary unraveling aims straight for the sheer terrors the best slasher films create. Here, Hendrix has zeroed in on the so-called “final girl,” the sole survivor of a horrific massacre—you’re already thinking of Jamie Lee Curtis in the Halloween movies or Sigourney Weaver in Alien. This book is even more skin-crawling, as deeply paranoid Lynnette Tarkington (impaled on an antler trophy during her first unfortunate encounter years ago) reluctantly participates in group therapy sessions with Dr. Carol Elliot along with fellow survivors Marilyn Torres, who has buried her emotions in wealth; Dani Shipman, who might have killed the wrong person; Julia Campbell, whose encounter left her in a wheelchair; and Heather DeLuca, who is succumbing to addiction. Hendrix can be tongue-in-cheek (see Horrorstör, 2014) but is deadly serious here while still warping the conventions of the genre, including the fact that some of the survivors have participated in graphic horror flicks depicting their very real traumas. The book is creepy enough on its face, but Hendrix’s use of expedient narrative tools, including a laconic cowboy lawman, an overly eager journalist, and a host of archetypal serial killers, heightens the unease. After one member of this vigilant sisterhood is murdered and a series of oddly prescient attacks threaten the rest, Lynnette becomes increasingly suspicious that the attacks are originating way too close to their inner circle. “Does this ever end?” Lynnette asks. “Will there always be someone out there turning little boys into monsters? Will we always be final girls? Will there always be monsters killing us? How do we stop the snake from eating its own tail?”

A bloody and grotesque but ultimately entertaining and inspiring take on horror movies, trauma, and self-determination.

Pub Date: July 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-20123-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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Eerie atmosphere isn’t enough to overcome an unsatisfying plot and sometimes-exasperating protagonist.

THE MAIDENS

A blend of psychological mystery and gothic thriller puts a psychotherapist in pursuit of a serial killer on the campus of Cambridge University.

The author’s second novel features a psychotherapist as its main character, as did his 2019 debut, The Silent Patient (whose main character makes an appearance here). This book’s protagonist is Mariana, who has a busy practice in London specializing in group therapy. At 36, she’s a widow, reeling from the drowning a year before of her beloved husband, Sebastian. She’s galvanized out of her fog by a call from her niece, Zoe, who was raised by Mariana and Sebastian after her parents died. Zoe is now studying at Cambridge, where Mariana and Sebastian met and courted. Zoe has terrible news: Her close friend Tara has been murdered, savagely stabbed and dumped in a wood. Mariana heads for Cambridge and, when the police arrest someone she thinks is innocent, starts her own investigation. She zeroes in on Edward Fosca, a handsome, charismatic classics professor who has a cultlike following of beautiful female students (which included Tara) called the Maidens, a reference to the cult of Eleusis in ancient Greece, whose followers worshipped Demeter and Persephone. Suspicious characters seem to be around every ivy-covered corner of the campus, though—an audacious young man Mariana meets on the train, one of her patients who has turned stalker, a porter at one of the college’s venerable houses, even the surly police inspector. The book gets off to a slow start, front-loaded with backstories and a Cambridge travelogue, but then picks up the pace and piles up the bodies. With its ambience of ritualistic murders, ancient myths, and the venerable college, the story is a gothic thriller despite its contemporary setting. That makes Mariana tough to get on board with—she behaves less like a modern professional woman than a 19th-century gothic heroine, a clueless woman who can be counted on in any situation to make the worst possible choice. And the book’s ending, while surprising, also feels unearned, like a bolt from the blue hurled by some demigod.

Eerie atmosphere isn’t enough to overcome an unsatisfying plot and sometimes-exasperating protagonist.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-30445-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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