An impressively meta work that delivers the pleasures of true-crime while skewering it.

DEVIL HOUSE

A true-crime author researches a mass-murder case that prompts him to reconsider his line of work.

Darnielle has an affection for the dark side of pop culture and the way fans of supposedly gloom-and-doom genres like heavy metal and horror are more sophisticated than they get credit for. So this smart, twisty novel about true-crime books and the 1980s “Satanic panic” is a fine fit for him and his best so far. The center and main narrator of the novel is Gage, an author who’s moved to Milpitas, California, as a kind of stunt: He plans to live on the site of an unsolved double murder that took place on Halloween 1986 in an abandoned porn shop that was defaced with occult imagery. Experience has taught Gage how to write about a case like this: His first book, about a teacher who killed two students in self-defense, became a modestly successful film. But that past begins to gnaw at Gage as he becomes more aware of how the genre demands archetypes that cheapen human loss: “I haunt dreadful places and try to coax ghosts from the walls, and then I sell pictures of the ghosts for money.” So the novel becomes a kind of critique of the form, as Darnielle (and Gage) imagines the crime victims (and ideas of victimhood) in more nuanced ways. This takes some odd turns: Substantial passages are written in ersatz Middle English, part of a subplot involving Arthurian legends. But he’s excellent at getting into the uncomfortable details of abusive homes and how fear sparks an urge to escape both physically and creatively. And the closing pages cleverly resolve the Milpitas mystery while avoiding sordid crime reportage’s demand for scapegoats and simple motives.

An impressively meta work that delivers the pleasures of true-crime while skewering it.

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-3742-1223-0

Page Count: 416

Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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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