A return to form for this popular author.

HOME BEFORE DARK

Spectral danger and human evil stalk Sager’s latest stalwart heroine.

When Maggie Holt’s father, Ewan, dies, she’s shocked to discover that she has inherited Baneberry Hall. Ewan made his name as a writer—and ruined her life—by writing a supposedly nonfiction account of the terrors their family endured while living in this grand Victorian mansion with a dark history. Determined to find out the truth behind her father’s sensational bestseller, Maggie returns to Baneberry Hall. Horror aficionados will feel quite cozy as they settle into this narrative, and Sager’s fans will recognize a familiar formula. As he has in his previous three novels, the author makes contemporary fiction out of time-honored tropes. Final Girls (2017) remains his most fresh and inventive novel, but his latest is significantly more satisfying than the two novels that followed. Interspersing Maggie’s story with chapters from her father’s book, Sager delivers something like a cross between The Haunting of Hill House and The Amityville Horror with a tough female protagonist. Ewan and Maggie both behave with the dogged idiocy common among people who buy haunted houses, but doubt about the veracity of Ewan’s book and Maggie’s desperate need to understand her own past make them both compelling characters. The ghosts and poltergeist activity Sager conjures are truly chilling, and he does a masterful job of keeping readers guessing until the very end. As was the case with past novels, though—especially The Last Time I Lied (2018)—Sager sets his story in the present while he seems to be writing about the past. For example, when the Holt family moved into Baneberry Hall in 1995 or thereabouts, Ewan—a professional journalist—worked on a typewriter. When Maggie wants to learn more about the history of Baneberry Hall, she drives to the town library instead of going online. Sager is already asking readers to suspend disbelief, and he makes that more difficult because it’s such a jolt when a character pulls out an iPhone or mentions eBay. This is, however, a minor complaint about what is a generally entertaining work of psychological suspense.

A return to form for this popular author.

Pub Date: June 30, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4517-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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A smart summer escape.

PORTRAIT OF AN UNKNOWN WOMAN

Silva’s latest Gabriel Allon novel is a bit of a throwback—in the best possible way.

One-time assassin and legendary spymaster Gabriel Allon has finally retired. After saying farewell to his friends and colleagues in Israel, he moves with his wife, Chiara, and their two young children to a piano nobile overlooking Venice’s Grand Canal. His plan is to return to the workshop where he learned to restore paintings as an employee—but only after he spends several weeks recovering from the bullet wound that left him dead for several minutes in The Cellist (2021). Of course, no one expects Gabriel to entirely withdraw from the field, and, sure enough, a call from his friend and occasional asset Julian Isherwood sends him racing around the globe on the trail of art forgers who are willing to kill to protect their extremely lucrative enterprise. Silva provides plenty of thrills and, as usual, offers a glimpse into the lifestyles of the outrageously wealthy. In the early books in this series, it was Gabriel’s work as an art restorer that set him apart from other action heroes, and his return to that world is the most rewarding part of this installment. It is true that, at this point in his storied career, Gabriel has become a nearly mythic figure. And Silva is counting on a lot of love—and willing suspension of disbelief—when Gabriel whips up four old master canvases that fool the world’s leading art experts as a lure for the syndicate selling fake paintings. That said, as Silva explains in an author’s note, the art market is rife with secrecy, subterfuge, and wishful thinking, in no small part because it is almost entirely unregulated. And, if anyone can crank out a Titian, a Tintoretto, a Gentileschi, and a Veronese in a matter of days, it’s Gabriel Allon. The author’s longtime fans may breathe a sigh of relief that this entry is relatively free of politics and the pandemic is nowhere in sight.

A smart summer escape.

Pub Date: July 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-283485-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Harper

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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Delightfully readable fiction, but the mystery disappoints.

THE IT GIRL

Ten years after having discovered her Oxford roommate’s dead body in front of the fireplace in their room, a young woman struggles with the realization that she may have helped send the wrong man to prison.

Hannah Jones arrives at Oxford hardly believing that she’s been accepted into this haven of learning and wealth. Sharing a picturesque set of rooms with the flamboyant and beautiful April Clarke-Cliveden, she divides her time between rigorous studying and energetic socializing with Emily Lippmana, Ryan Coates, Hugh Bland, and Will de Chastaigne, with whom she shares an attraction even though he's April’s boyfriend. It’s a good life except for the increasingly creepy interactions she has with John Neville, one of the porters. When Hannah finds April dead one night just after she’s seen Neville coming down the stairs from their rooms, it’s her testimony that puts him in jail. Ware divides the novel into alternating “before” and “after” chapters, with the narrative of Hannah’s college experience unfolding parallel to the events of her life nearly a decade later, when she’s married to Will and pregnant with their first child. Then Neville dies in prison and Hannah hears from a reporter who thinks he might actually have been innocent. Hannah begins to wonder herself, and she plunges back into the past to see if she can figure out what really happened that night. As usual with Ware, the novel is well crafted—the setting, characters, and dialogue are all engaging—but it lacks the author's signature sense of urgent and imminent threat. The novel unfolds smoothly, providing a few twists and turns, as the reader might expect, but not really delivering any true suspense. It also lacks the contrast between a luxurious background and the characters’ fears that Ware has often played to great effect. She does offer a deeper dive into the trauma of the survivors than she usually does, but this isn't the breathless page-turner one has come to expect from Ware.

Delightfully readable fiction, but the mystery disappoints.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-9821-5526-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2022

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