Fiction from Abbott, Andrews, Barron, Hall, Hart, and McCarthy, plus a Debut | Xpress Reviews

Week ending April 6, 2018

starred review starAbbott, Patricia. I Bring Sorrow: And Other Stories of Transgression. Polis. Mar. 2018. 320p. ISBN 9781943818877. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781947993006. F
Transgression is the central theme in this stellar collection by Abbott (Concrete Angel; Shot in Detroit). Each diminutive story packs a wallop, with plots as varied as the characters that inhabit them. The standout tale “Pox” describes a harrowing attempt by a grieving mother to save her family from a smallpox epidemic. A bleak but surprisingly redemptive story, “Won’t You Pardon Me?” focuses on a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who committed a sin years ago that he can never make right. Creating a bleak and dystopian future in diary form, “The Annas” transports the reader to 2097, where all but a select few humans remain. Abbott’s craftsmanship is on full display in the short story milieu, with an underlying sense of tragic destiny in each of these selections. The pieces can alternatively leave one with a sense of despair or a tentative hope for better days.
Verdict This collection of 26 distinct and penetrating tales belongs in all libraries. Just when the reader thinks they’ve found the best one, they’ll turn the page and fall in love all over again. Strongly recommended for fans of suspense and enthusiasts of the short form.—Amy Nolan, St. Joseph, MI

Andrews, Brian. Reset. Thomas & Mercer: Amazon. Apr. 2018. 382p. ISBN 9781503954267. pap. $15.95. THRILLER
A soldier on duty in Afghanistan discovers a mysterious artifact in a narrow cave opening. Staff Sgt. Michael Pitcher immediately suffers a seizure, and when he’s found, he is a changed man. Pitcher is sent home, and Josie, his wife, does not recognize the cold and aloof stranger who was once a loving husband. The object he found is crated back to the States with him, and the properties it showcases indicate it might be the most dangerous weapon ever devised. When Pitcher and the team of scientists studying him vanish, CIA agent Dean Ninemeyer and Josie team up to find answers.
Verdict Andrews (“Tier One” series”) has written a baffling and intriguing science thriller that is part Tom Clancy with a dash of Michael Crichton. Readers will want to keep turning the pages not only for the wonderfully drawn characters but also to uncover the truth behind the object with the potential to destroy the family dynamic. The ending is both unexpected and perfect.—Jeff Ayers, Seattle P.L.

Barron, Laird. Blood Standard. Putnam. (Isaiah Coleridge, Bk. 1). May 2018. 336p. ISBN 9780735212879. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780735212886. MYS
Isaiah Coleridge is a mob enforcer stationed in Alaska and has seen and done it all. One day, he disobeys orders by forcibly ending the money-making scheme of a made man. The mob has two options: to put a bullet behind Coleridge’s ear or grant him exile. Owing to Isaiah’s long-standing service, his boss spares his life as long as he stays under the radar and out of trouble. Isaiah relocates to upstate New York, seeking a new quiet life on a farm. But when a teenage girl disappears, Isaiah must dive back into the underworld that he had been warned to avoid.
Verdict Three-time Shirley Jackson Award–winning horror author Barron (Swift to Chase) delivers a fine first entry in the noir genre. Fans of James Ellroy will appreciate Barron’s hard-boiled prose. Readers of John D. MacDonald will enjoy the plot’s twists and turns. [See Prepub Alert, 11/13/17.]—Russell Michalak, Goldey-Beacom Coll. Lib., Wilmington, DE

Cantor, Joanna. Alternative Remedies for Loss. Bloomsbury USA. May 2018. 320p. ISBN 9781635571714. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781635571721. F
[DEBUT]Olivia, a 22-year-old film student, is experiencing what can only be described as a quarter-life crisis after the death of her mother. The grief is still fresh, with only four months having passed, yet Olivia’s family seems to have all but forgotten their matriarch. One brother is engaged, another married and trying for a baby, and her father already has a new girlfriend. Olivia’s college friends have moved on with their lives as well, while she is at a standstill after she drops out of school and takes a job as a glorified coffee attendant at a local film agency. When she finds a mysterious photo and love letter among her mother’s things, she embarks on an Eat Pray Love–reminiscent journey to India that she hopes will bring her closure.
Verdict Cantor’s debut novel has a clunky quality that makes it tough to get through. The plot never takes off, and the characters (of which there are many rotating in and out) seem basic and lacking depth.—Chelsie Harris, San Diego Cty. Lib.

Hall, Araminta. Our Kind of Cruelty. Farrar. May 2018. 288p. ISBN 9780374228194. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374717995. THRILLER
This slow-burn, sinister psychological thriller by British author Hall brings readers into the mind of a man consumed with his former girlfriend. When Mike first met Verity in college, he was weak and without direction. Under her careful eye, he transformed into the man she wanted—physically and mentally. A favorite game of theirs was called “The Crave” in which Verity would flirt with a stranger and, at their secret signal, Mike would step in, sometimes fighting his supposed rival; they both got off on the rush. Now, several years later, Verity is engaged to a successful businessman. Though Mike plans to attend the wedding, he knows it’s all a ruse. In his mind, this is just the latest and darkest escalation of their psychosexual pastime, and it’s up to him to ferret out the hidden meaning behind Verity’s seemingly straightforward communication and “rescue” her. Mike’s unreliable narration and his refusal to believe Verity’s insistence that their relationship is over are both frustrating and fascinating; Hall’s depiction of stalker mentality and behavior is chilling. Perhaps most interesting is the examination of gender politics and how women are punished for sexual behavior in ways that men are not.
Verdict Though the ending will be predictable for avid thriller fans, the journey there makes for a compulsive read. Hand this to fans of Caroline Kepnes’s You and to readers who appreciate twisted, unlikable characters. [See Prepub Alert, 11/21/17.]—Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal

starred review starHart, Joe. Obscura. Thomas & Mercer: Amazon. May 2018. 352p. ISBN 9781503949898. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781503949881. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781503934443. THRILLER
Hart’s (“Dominion Trilogy”; Widow Town) latest novel is a mix of sf and caper thriller, with an underlying theme rooted in the problems of today. A new disease, born out of the rapid increase of pollutants, is causing patients of all ages to lose short- and eventually long-term memory. Dr. Gillian Ryan is determined to find a cure for the dementia that took her husband and is now afflicting her daughter. She just needs opioids to get her through the day. NASA offers her unlimited funding in return for six months on a space station, because their experiments there are causing similar symptoms to that earthbound disease. By the time Gillian discovers that she has been lied to at every turn, she’s stuck on Mars facing a murder charge while in the throes of opioid withdrawal. Her solution to the crime may be too late, for the original experiment, for the space station, and especially for her child.
Verdict This gripping book will be a must-read for fans of sf-based mysteries such as John Scalzi’s Lock In and Kristine Kathyrn Rusch’s “Retrieval Artist” series, as well as aficionados of stories about science gone wrong, too far, or both.—Marlene Harris, Reading Reality, LLC, Duluth, GA

McCarthy, Rob. A Handful of Ashes. Pegasus Crime. May 2018. 384p. ISBN 9781681777719. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781681778143. MYS
This follow-up to McCarthy’s acclaimed debut mystery, The Hollow Men, again pairs Dr. Harry Kent, a medical examiner with London’s Metropolitan Police, and DIC Frankie Gold. This time, Frankie calls Harry when an apparent suicide has some inconsistencies. Harry learns that the victim, Susan Bayliss, was a doctor who had recently blown the whistle on a famous heart surgeon at a noted children’s hospital, accusing him of performing unnecessary high-risk operations to enhance his reputation. Bayliss was the one eventually fired, but at the time of her death she was still pushing for an investigation. Now the families of the deceased children, who had seen her as their chief advocate, are demanding answers from a stonewalling hospital, while Kent and Gold must identify who wanted Bayliss dead.
Verdict This second entry in an excellent medical thriller/police procedural series fulfills the promise of the first volume. Fast-paced with an unexpected ending, this novel has everything fans of the genre could want.—Lisa O’Hara, Univ. of Manitoba Libs., Winnipeg

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