An impressive, complex horror tale—two (rotting) thumbs up.

FACE THE NIGHT

In this debut novel that fuses horror and supernatural mystery, a woman struggles to understand a recurring nightmare that has haunted her since childhood.

Set in the fictional town of Cellar, Ohio, in 1987, the story begins as Adriana Krause—an unemployed, single mother trying to make ends meet—is embroiled in a custody battle over her 3-year-old son, Dylan, with her estranged father, Bradley Krause. Bradley is the longtime mayor of the town. After a court judge decides that in order for Adriana to keep custody of her son, she needs to secure gainful employment in the next 30 days, her life goes from bad to worse. Dylan’s biological father, Eric—a drug addict who has had nothing to do with Adriana and her son for years—overdoses and dies on her couch while babysitting the boy as she attempts to get hired as a sketch artist for the local police department. Because of her uncanny ability to bring subjects to life on the sketch pad, she gets the job—barely—and befriends a rookie cop named Matthew Hinkley. The two are both outsiders of sorts and find common ground questioning the strange and seemingly unethical decisions coming from the mayor and the police chief. As Adriana fights to keep custody of her son, she becomes increasingly beleaguered with a dream that has haunted her for years. In the dream, she is underwater at the bottom of a lake when a rotting arm explodes from the sediment, grabs her, and begins pulling her down. When she sees the corpse’s face, it’s trying to tell her something. As her father becomes embroiled in a contentious mayoral race, Adriana and Matthew begin to piece together the clues that they’ve uncovered—some from his work with cold-case files and others from her evolving nightmare—and the conclusion they both come to is as shocking as it is gruesome.

This outstanding novel is reminiscent of early works by Stephen King and Peter Straub. Lastufka brilliantly uses subtle imagery and symbolism throughout to create a decidedly dark undertone that is simultaneously creepy and nostalgic. In the very first sequence, for example, Adriana tattoos a laughing, rotting skull onto the arm of her former boyfriend as ’80s tunes blare from the radio. The utilization of music from the era adds another layer to the narrative and creates a memorable soundtrack to Adriana’s story that includes Depeche Mode’s “Strangelove,” Prince’s “Little Red Corvette,” and Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” And, like the aforementioned horror luminaries, the author employs sensory descriptions masterfully, using them to fully immerse readers in the eerie atmospherics: “She listened. The water lapped gently at the shore, hundreds of branches creaked under the weight of the breeze, nearby frogs croaked at the moon, and there was a faint chiming. Adriana didn’t expect to find anything pleasant in this nightmare world, but the distant bell chimed continuously, monotone and somewhat soothing.” But, above all, it’s the surprisingly intricate plotline that powers this narrative. The wide-ranging characters—from Adriana’s neighbor’s deaf teen daughter to the courageous wife of the candidate running against Bradley—are like puzzle pieces, and with each new revelation, the grisly picture becomes clearer.

An impressive, complex horror tale—two (rotting) thumbs up.

Pub Date: March 8, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-73369-192-5

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Shortwave Media

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

THE LIONESS

An actress and her entourage are kidnapped by Russians in Bohjalian’s uneven thriller.

In 1964, Hollywood’s gossip rags are agog as movie star Katie Barstow marries gallerist David Hill and takes her inner circle along on her honeymoon. And an adventuresome honeymoon it is—on safari in the Serengeti with aging big-game hunter Charlie Patton, who once helped Hemingway bag trophies. But Katie is not the star of this ensemble piece. The populous cast—a who’s who at the beginning is indispensable—includes Katie’s publicist, Reggie Stout; her agent, Peter Merrick; her best friend, Carmen Tedesco, a supporting actress who plays wisecracking sidekicks; and Terrance Dutton, Katie's recent co-star, a Black actor who's challenging Sidney Poitier's singularity in Hollywood. With obvious nods to Hemingway’s worst fear—masculine cowardice—Bohjalian adds in Felix Demeter, Carmen’s husband, a B-list screenwriter who reminds his wife of Hemingway’s weakling Francis Macomber. Felix seems a superfluous double of David, who feels inadequate because Katie is the breadwinner and his father is CIA. Then there’s Katie’s older brother, Billy Stepanov, whose abuse at the hands of their mother shaped the psychologist he is today; Billy’s pregnant wife, Margie; and Benjamin Kikwete, an apprentice safari guide. Thus, a proliferation of voices whose competing perspectives fragment rather than advance the story. The kidnapping plot seems less designed to test each character’s mettle than to exercise Bohjalian’s predilection for minute descriptions of gore. The most heartfelt portrayal here is of the Serengeti and its flora and fauna, but none of the human characters net enough face time to transcend their typecasting. The motives behind the kidnapping might have lent intrigue to the proceedings, but foreshadowing is so slight that the infodump explainer at the end leaves us shocked, mostly at how haphazard the plot is.

Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54482-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

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BOOK OF NIGHT

A former thief who specialized in stealing magical documents is forced back into her old habits in Black's adult debut.

Charlie Hall used to work as a thief, stealing for and from magicians—or rather, “gloamists.” In this world, gloamists are people with magical shadows that are alive, gaining strength from the gloamists' own blood. A gloamist can learn to manipulate the magic of their shadow, doing everything from changing how it looks to using it to steal, possess a person, or even murder. Gloamists hire nonmagical people like Charlie to steal precious and rare magical documents written by their kind throughout history and detailing their research and experiments in shadow magic. Gloamists can use onyx to keep each other from sending shadows to steal these treasures, but onyx won't stop regular humans from old-fashioned breaking and entering. After Charlie’s talent for crime gets her into too much trouble, she swears off her old career and tries to settle down with her sensible boyfriend, Vince—but when she finds a dead man in an alley and notices that even his shadow has been ripped to pieces, she can’t help trying to figure out who he was and why he met such a gruesome end. Before she knows it, Charlie is forced back into a life of lies and danger, using her skills as a thief to find a book that could unleash the full and terrifying power of the shadow world. Black is a veteran fantasy writer, which shows in the opening pages as she neatly and easily guides the reader through the engrossing world of gloamists, magical shadows, and Charlie’s brand of criminality. There's a lot of flipping back and forth between the past and the present, and though both timelines are well plotted and suspenseful, the story leans a touch too hard on the flashbacks. Still, the mystery elements are well executed, as is Charlie’s characterization, and the big twist at the end packs a satisfying punch.

Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-81219-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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