A crackerjack crime novel about an upright Chicago bartender on the hunt for a killer.

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WAGER TOUGH

A thriller in which a man under pressure from the mob investigates a murder.

As the novel opens, young Eddie O’Connell, hero of Farrell’s Wager Easy(2021), is in a bind. He owes the Burrascano crime family a gambling debt so large he can’t repay it. Uncharacteristically, instead of stuffing Eddie in an oil drum and depositing him in the nearest deep body of water, the mob accepts a counteroffer: Eddie can travel from Chicago to Denver and take over the Team Player Collection Agency on the mob’s behalf. Team Player had until recently been run by Eddie’s acquaintance Zany, but Zany was gruesomely and dramatically murdered, and Eddie has positioned himself as the most likely candidate to unravel the crime. “If Burrascano called in a gang of known mobsters to run the store, the killer would never surface,” Eddie thinks. “But if someone like me was running the place, the killer might think he could take advantage of the situation.” This is a very big “if.” Eddie knows nothing about running a collection agency and is acting without the sage advice of his older and wiser crime-solving Uncle Mike (a detective detained on another case). He gets help from Team Player’s manager, Paula “Rudi” Rudinger, and soon the two are embroiled in tracking Zany’s murderer through the labyrinthine worlds of gambling and organized crime—all while Eddie tries to keep his own gambling demons in check.

This latest outing from Farrell is even more compulsively readable than Wager Easy. The author has a pitch-perfect ear for the intricacies of the no man’s land Eddie inhabits. He’s “caught between two vicious worlds,” beholden to the Burrascano crime family and its nefarious but oddly ethical strictures and the blue-wall codes of his uncle the cop. The downplayed role of Uncle Mike in this adventure might have worked against the novel (the chemistry between the uncle and nephew is particularly enjoyable), but Farrell compensates in two ways. First, he drops the reader into the action at a breakneck moment and never slows down. (As Eddie himself notes, his role in his partnership with Uncle Mike was always action-oriented. With Uncle Mike mostly missing from this adventure, Eddie's quick temper drives the tempo.) And second, he fills the narrative with memorable characters, including an enjoyably despicable bad guy and, of course, Rudi, whose own backstory steadily builds. Farrell has mastered the art of action-thriller pacing, punctuating the novel with unexpected turns, and each of his characters has a distinctive voice and motivation. The everyday dangers of Eddie’s world—as he navigates the violence of the mob and the violence of the law—are expertly limned, and the result feels very assured: “Zany used to say that sometimes horses find a soft spot they never expected and they run the race of their life,” Eddie reflects at one point. This novel and its predecessor comfortably occupy that soft spot; they both probe vulnerability to good effect.

A crackerjack crime novel about an upright Chicago bartender on the hunt for a killer.

Pub Date: July 31, 2021

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 367

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

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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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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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