This complicated gothic thriller of dueling spouses and homicidal writers is cleverly plotted and neatly tied up.

ROCK PAPER SCISSORS

An unhappy British couple attempt to rekindle the magic with a weekend trip to a remote spot in Scotland.

How is she tricking me? Feeney, the author of Sometimes I Lie (2017) and His and Hers (2020), has trained her readers to start asking this question immediately with her puzzle-box narratives. Well, you won't find out here. Only the basics: Amelia's won a weekend getaway in an office raffle, and as the novel opens, she and her screenwriter husband, Adam, who suffers from face blindness, along with their dog, Bob, are miserably making their way through a snowstorm to a destination in the Scottish Highlands which is no Airbnb Superhost, that's for sure. A freezing cold, barely converted church with many locked rooms and malfunctioning electricity, the property also features a mysterious caretaker who has left firewood and a nice note but seems to be spying through the window. Both Adam and Amelia seem to be considering this weekend the occasion for ending the marriage by any means necessary—then Bob disappears. The narrative goes back and forth with first-person chapters by Amelia and Adam interleaved with a series of letters written to Adam on their anniversary through the years and keyed to the traditional gifts: paper, cotton, wood, leather, etc. There's also a rock and a scissors, referring to the children's game of the book title, which the couple use to make everyday decisions like "Should we stay together?" Offstage is the famous writer Henry Winter, whose novels Adam has made his fortune adapting; through several author-characters, Feeney weaves in sometimes-grim observations about the literary life. On meeting a sourpuss cashier at the rural grocery store: "The woman wore her bitterness like a badge; the kind of person who writes one-star book reviews."

This complicated gothic thriller of dueling spouses and homicidal writers is cleverly plotted and neatly tied up.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-26610-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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Funny, sad, astute, occasionally creepy, and slyly irresistible.

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APPLES NEVER FALL

Australian novelist Moriarty combines domestic realism and noirish mystery in this story about the events surrounding a 69-year-old Sydney woman’s disappearance.

Joy and Stan Delaney met as champion tennis players more than 50 years ago and ran a well-regarded tennis academy until their recent retirement. Their long, complicated marriage has been filled with perhaps as much passion for the game of tennis as for each other or their children. When Joy disappears on Feb. 14, 2020 (note the date), the last text she sends to her now-grown kids—bohemian Amy, passive Logan, flashy Troy, and migraine-suffering Brooke—is too garbled by autocorrect to decipher and stubborn Stan refuses to accept that there might be a problem. But days pass and Joy remains missing and uncharacteristically silent. As worrisome details come to light, the police become involved. The structure follows the pattern of Big Little Lies (2014) by setting up a mystery and then jumping months into the past to unravel it. Here, Moriarty returns to the day a stranger named Savannah turned up bleeding on the Delaneys’ doorstep and Joy welcomed her to stay for an extended visit. Who is Savannah? Whether she’s innocent, scamming, or something else remains unclear on many levels. Moriarty is a master of ambiguity and also of the small, telling detail like a tossed tennis racket or the repeated appearance of apple crumble. Starting with the abandoned bike that's found by a passing motorist on the first page, the evidence that accumulates around what happened to Joy constantly challenges the reader both to notice which minor details (and characters) matter and to distinguish between red herrings and buried clues. The ultimate reveal is satisfying, if troubling. But Moriarty’s main focus, which she approaches from countless familiar and unexpected angles, is the mystery of family and what it means to be a parent, child, or sibling in the Delaney family—or in any family, for that matter.

Funny, sad, astute, occasionally creepy, and slyly irresistible.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-22025-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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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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