Fiction from Abbott, Cole, & Larsson, plus Victorian Ghost Stories | Xpress Reviews

Week ending July 18, 2014

starred review starAbbott, Megan. The Fever. Little, Brown. 2014. 240p. ISBN 9780316231053. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316231022. F
fever071814It begins when Lise Daniels starts convulsing in math class. Her horrified classmates, including her friend Deenie Nash, watch as she crashes to the floor. That evening, Lise enters the hospital after another violent seizure. Soon more girls at the high school begin falling ill and the questions begin. Is this the result of the HPV vaccines all the schoolgirls received? The polluted lake water in which some of the victims took a forbidden dip? Or is it something more sinister—and why is it only happening to the girls? Tension mounts in the suburban community, and rumors spread like wildfire. Deenie searches for answers, beginning with a look at her closest friends and their evolving relationships, while her schoolteacher father and hockey-playing brother confront uncomfortable truths about themselves.
Verdict Abbott’s seventh novel (after Dare Me) may be her best so far. It has elements of David Lynch, Shirley Jackson, and the best of Stephen King but in a voice all her own. The sinuous, liquid prose is evocative and startling, and Abbott’s ability to delve into teenagers’ psyches is true and clear. For fans of the author and those who like Laura Lippman’s stand-alones, dark YA, and suburban noir. [See Prepub Alert, 1/6/14; see also “Books for the Masses: Editors BEA Picks,” LJ 7/14, p. 30.]—Liz French, Library Journal

Cole, Nick. Soda Pop Soldier. Harper Voyager. Aug. 2014. 464p. ISBN 9780062210227. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062210234. SF
In the near future, professional gamer PerfectQuestion is struggling to get a win in the online game War World, both to make the rent in kill bonuses and to keep his professional status. But in an effort to acquire some extra cash, he starts playing an underground open source game tournament called the Black in which no rules exist and players can act out perverse fantasies. His life is on the line—and not just in the games.
Verdict The world of online gaming, specifically MMORPGs (and if you don’t know what massively multiplayer online role-playing games are, then you’re not the prime audience for this novel), are examined in Cole’s (The Wasteland Saga) fast-paced speculative thriller. The action is unfortunately blunted by usually being at the remove of game play. If the idea of watching someone play (or describe) a video game bores you to tears, skip this one, but gaming fans might enjoy the mix of dangers both in game and IRL (“in real life”).—Megan McArdle, San Diego

Larsson, Åsa. The Second Deadly Sin. MacLehose: Quercus. Aug. 2014. 384p. tr. from Swedish by Laurie Thompson. ISBN 9781623651398. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781623651404. F
Hunters in northern Sweden shoot a bear threatening their town and are shocked to find human remains in its stomach. In a nearby town, a woman is discovered brutally murdered; her young grandson, too traumatized to speak, is unable to help the police. Prosecutor Rebecka Martinson (Until Thy Wrath Be Past) and inspector Anna-Maria Mella team up to find her killer, but a workplace rivalry soon has Martinson on the sidelines. As police examine the dead woman’s life for clues, Martinson begins to uncover a much deeper motive that goes back to the town’s early days.
Verdict Like many Scandinavian mystery writers, Larsson imbues the story with a strong sense of place and bleak atmosphere, made even more palpable in the desolate dark and bitter cold of northern Sweden. Fans of Henning Mankell will find similarities in Larsson’s intricate weaving of past and present, although the author moves her story along at breakneck speed unlike the more leisurely Mankell. A good bet for readers who enjoy strong female leads and intricate plotting. Although this is the fifth book in the series (after Until Thy Wrath Be Past), readers can comfortably pick it up as a stand-alone novel without missing anything.—Portia Kapraun, Monticello-Union Twp. P.L., IN

The Phantom Coach: A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Ghost Stories. Bloomsbury USA. Aug. 2014. 320p. ed. by Michael Sims. ISBN 9781620408056. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781620403242. F
Ghost stories permit us to peek behind the shroud. So says editor Sims in the introduction of his newest collection, which gathers the 12 greatest ghost stories of the Victorian era. His picks include such celebrated authors as Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Henry James, but he also gives justice to those whose stars faded at the turn of the 20th century, particularly female writers like Mary E. Wilkins Freeman and Amelia Edwards. Sims doesn’t adhere to strict definitions of what is Victorian; four of the featured writers are Americans.
Verdict Sims has a rich enthusiasm for things that go bump in the night, and the accessibility, variety, and deftness of this collection allow readers to revel in it. While classic stories like W.W. Jacobs’s “The Monkey’s Paw” are here, Sims places top priority on what’s spookiest, not simply what’s most celebrated. Each piece is preceded by an introduction that is equally brief and insightful. Here, Sims has successfully pulled back the Victorian shroud. A fine follow-up to Sims’s acclaimed Dracula’s Ghost and a necessary addition for lovers of all things Victorian, especially of the creepy variety.—Erin Kelly, Media, PA

Swenson, Patrick. The Ultra Thin Man. Tor. Aug. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780765336941. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466829299. SF
Dave Crowell and his partner Alan Brindos gave up their detective agency to work with the Network Intelligence Organization on a task force to catch the leader of a movement seeking independence for all the worlds of the Union. The task force kicks into high gear when terrorists cause a planetary disaster, leading Crowell and Brindos to stumble separately onto an even bigger conspiracy.
Verdict From its title, a play on Dashiell Hammett’s pinnacle of noir, The Thin Man, Swenson aims high with this first novel. Although there are noir elements, including a femme fatale or two, they don’t hang together in any coherent way. The conspiracy is bizarre but not internally consistent with the plot setup, and the writing needs polish, especially in the use of dialog. Having the two detectives separate for the entire narrative might have allowed the author to tell two branching stories, but he missed an opportunity to have more character development with the pair interacting.—Megan McArdle, San Diego



  1. Rick says:

    I am considering teaching Sims’s “The Phantom Coach” this fall in a course on Ghost Stories, but to make an informed choice of that text over other anthologies, I need to know which stories are in it. I tried the publisher, and got nowhere. Is it possible, since you reviewed it and appear to have a copy, you could tell me which stories are in it? From other reviews, I know about Kipling’s “They,” James’s “Sir Edmund Orme,” Oliphant’s “Library Window,” and Gaskell’s “Nurse’s Story.” Is it possible for you to assist me in this matter? Thanks…Rick Swartz