A grim tale of infidelity and family dysfunction.

MARLENE

Four misfits battle their demons and each other.

The characters in Djian’s novel could have stepped straight from the pages of the most melancholy Raymond Carver short story. Dan and Richard are Special Forces veterans of combat in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen, both suffering from PTSD and living in an unnamed town near a military base where their former comrades still depart for and return from war, many of them burdened by the same damage. When Marlene, whose sister, Nath, is married to Richard, arrives unannounced (and newly pregnant) in town, reuniting with Nath for the first time in 18 years, she’s the match that sets fire to the emotional tinderbox in which these characters live. Nath and Richard’s 18-year-old daughter, Mona, has briefly taken shelter with her godfather, Dan, after fleeing her parents’ house for reasons never fully explained. Marlene and Dan drift into a relationship while Nath and Richard’s uneasy marriage risks being undermined by both partners’ infidelity. The novel begins in shades of gray and slides toward black as incidents of petty crime, physical violence, and sexual betrayal mount. Djian situates the relationships of all five of these unsympathetic characters in a cul-de-sac from which it’s obvious early in the novel they lack the ability, or even the will, to escape. That this bleak story culminates in death is utterly predictable, but what’s lacking is any truly tragic sense beyond an obvious regret at the senseless loss of human life. That shortcoming results from Djian’s choice to spend more time creating a moody portrait of working-class despair than he does plumbing his characters’ inner lives in any meaningful way.

A grim tale of infidelity and family dysfunction.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-159051-987-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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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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Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

DREAM TOWN

An old-fashioned gumshoe yarn about Hollywood dreams and dead bodies.

Private investigator Aloysius Archer celebrates New Year’s Eve 1952 in LA with his gorgeous lady friend and aspiring actress Liberty Callahan. Screenwriter Eleanor Lamb shows up and offers to hire him because “someone might be trying to kill me.” “I’m fifty a day plus expenses,” he replies, but money’s no obstacle. Later, he sneaks into Lamb’s house and stumbles upon a body, then gets knocked out by an unseen assailant. Archer takes plenty of physical abuse in the story, but at least he doesn’t get a bullet between the eyes like the guy he trips over. A 30-year-old World War II combat veteran, Archer is a righteous and brave hero. Luck and grit keep him alive in both Vegas and the City of Angels, which is rife with gangsters and crooked cops. Not rich at all, his one luxury is the blood-red 1939 Delahaye he likes to drive with the top down. He’d bought it with his gambling winnings in Reno, and only a bullet hole in the windscreen post mars its perfection. Liberty loves Archer, but will she put up with the daily danger of losing him? Why doesn’t he get a safe job, maybe playing one of LA’s finest on the hit TV show Dragnet? Instead, he’s a tough and principled idealist who wants to make the world a better place. Either that or he’s simply a “pavement-pounding PI on a slow dance to maybe nowhere.” And if some goon doesn’t do him in sooner, his Lucky Strikes will probably do him in later. Baldacci paints a vivid picture of the not-so-distant era when everybody smoked, Joe McCarthy hunted commies, and Marilyn Monroe stirred men’s loins. The 1950s weren’t the fabled good old days, but they’re fodder for gritty crime stories of high ideals and lowlifes, of longing and disappointment, and all the trouble a PI can handle.

Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

Pub Date: April 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5387-1977-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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