In Hunter’s debut espionage tale, the assassination of a Cambridge University professor reveals conspiracies involving terrorist bombings.
Sean Garrett’s instructions are to retrieve intelligence from distinguished academic Mohammad Ahmad regarding a King’s Cross Station bombing 14 months earlier. But he’s also contemplating revenge against Ahmad, as he believes thathe’s linked to the attack, which killed Sean’s grandfather and put his sister in a coma. Quite unexpectedly, an assassin gets to the professor first. Sean witnesses the murder, which soon makes him a target of the elusive hit man. Both MI6 and the CIA want to find the assassin, as Ahmad was a shared asset, and they begin by analyzing closed-captioned TV footage, which seems to implicate Sean as the killer. MI6’s Banastre Montjoy, Ahmad’s original handler, is on the case, and soon others enter the investigation, officially or unofficially, including police from Scotland Yard. Meanwhile, the terrorists responsible for the King’s Cross Station attack and additional bombings are looking to tie off any loose ends, and they have a mole in British Intelligence that could help them do so. Hunter’s tale is deliciously complex, but it’s surprisingly easy to follow. Despite the influx of characters, for example, it’s generally easy to keep them all straight along with all of their respective agencies. The twists come in the form of shocking alliances, and the final-act explanation is an impressive one that manages to connect multiple events, botched parts and all. The prose throughout is clear and concise despite the characters’ use of coded messages and cockney slang (the latter of which is defined as soon as characters utter it). There are some moments of violence, although it’s never excessive, and the ending scene, all the way to the closing sentence, is extraordinary.
An explosive thriller full of engaging dialogue and action.
In this thriller, a tell-all about a celebrity novelist examines her most famous horror book, which may be more truth than fiction.
People often recognize 20-something Meg simply for being the daughter of renowned author Frances Ashley. The writer’s bibliography is extensive, but her 40-year-old debut, 1976’s Kitten, is her most revered tale. The story of a shocking island murder has reached cult status, and rabid fans known as Kitty Cultists litter the internet with fan fiction and conspiracy theories. One hypothesis, that Frances based her novel and characters on a real-life killing, is the reason the author’s new assistant, Asa Bloch, asks Meg to write a memoir. Though Asa genuinely wants proof that Kitten is thinly veiled nonfiction, Meg eventually agrees, seeing it as a chance to disclose her volatile relationship with a cold, neglectful mother. She heads to the tale’s setting, Ambletern Hotel, on an island off the Georgia coast. Dorothy Kitchens has since closed the hotel she inherited, having suffered harassment from fans who believe she’s the living counterpart of a murderous Kitten character. But what Meg finds on the island is a bevy of lies—and a killer who doesn’t want the truth uncovered. Carpenter’s (Burying the Honeysuckle Girls, 2016) convoluted but rousing plot piles on an array of storylines. There are soapy bits (a hush-hush lawsuit and Meg eying groundskeeper Koa and his abs); heaps of mystery (cryptic notes in a fan-notated copy of Kitten that Frances inexplicably has at her apartment); and too many suspicious characters to count. Carpenter deepens the intrigue by filling her pages with haunting, sometimes-ominous passages: “The worst thing my mother ever did, her gravest sin, wasn’t something I intended to share with anyone.” Meg’s a novice investigator, giving her first-person narrative credence; she’s just as surprised—reading her mom’s book for the first time—as readers will likely be, and her ideas generally come from TV shows like Law & Order. Carpenter amps the tension by paralleling Meg’s story with Kitten snippets prefacing each chapter—with both building toward revealing climaxes—and ties off the subplots with clarity and thoroughness.
Twists aplenty in this searing murder mystery should leave readers dizzy, in the best way possible.
An American archaeologist in Africa uncovers a dangerous conspiracy while investigating the discovery of a lifetime in Grant’s (Poison Evidence, 2016, etc.) thriller.
Dr. Morgan Adler is driving toward the U.S. military base Camp Citron in Djibouti. The base is the only place she knows that could protect the fossilized bones that she’s carrying—part of a stunning paleoanthropological discovery that could change evolutionary science. Cal Callahan and Pax Blanchard, two Green Berets, intercept her near the base, acting on a tip that a local warlord, Etefu Desta, has sent a “message” with her. As they question her, the soldiers discover that her car has been secretly rigged with a bomb. She manages to avoid the resulting explosion, but the bones are destroyed. Afterward, Adler wants to return to the United States; however, she also wants to ensure the remainder of the skeleton, which she calls “Linus,” is secure. The U.S. Navy also wants her to complete her contract, so she agrees to stay, and Blanchard is assigned to protect her. He’s impressed with her intelligence and resourcefulness, and they feel a mutual attraction; however, a romance is off-limits, as she’s a general’s daughter and under his protection. When Adler uncovers a conspiracy involving a missing geologist, Blanchard finds himself in a race against time to rescue the woman he’s grown to love. This first novel in Grant’s Flashpoint series offers a multilayered, suspenseful plot that’s strengthened by its appealing characters, strong attention to detail, and a healthy dose of romance. The story kicks off with a bang, literally and figuratively, and Grant keeps the momentum going through a series of plot twists and well-staged action sequences that plunge the heroes into the path of a vicious warlord who’ll stop at nothing to consolidate his power in the region. The author, a professional archaeologist herself, successfully draws upon her expertise to create a vivid portrait of Djibouti as well as of Adler’s work. The romantic relationship between the two main characters is similarly well-developed; it proceeds at a slow burn as they discover common ground and indulge in playful, erotic banter.
An exciting tale that offers an entertaining mix of action and romance.
In this literary ghost story/psychological thriller, a woman is forced to confront her past when sticks begin appearing out of thin air.
“There was another stick,” begins this novel, words that sound simple—but the reality is terrifying to Barbara. Until recently, she was living a dull but settled life. But then Nothing began to produce broom handle–sized sticks from Nowhere right in her apartment. She can find no rational explanation for them or for the other strange things and people (a muscular black woman, a little girl with long braids) she begins to see and sense. The sticks keep coming, and so does Barbara’s dead father. Divining that he wants her to investigate his supposed suicide, she returns to her hometown. Her mother and brother still live there, the brother believing his bunker mates from Vietnam, which he left four years ago, are still present and speaking to him. The family’s undercurrents are disturbing: Barbara’s mother beat her children and is still controlling and abusive, while her father “was witty and likable to outsiders…but he was cruelly cynical at home.” As Barbara investigates his death, her brother plans, crazily, to kill her. She suffers great personal and psychological danger, finding nevertheless at the end of her ordeal that there is untapped potential within herself. In her debut novel, Greene orchestrates Barbara’s increasing horror well, raising the pitch with each new strange encounter while deepening the sense of dread. For example, an early remark, “Barbara’s relationship with her father became as intimate as it had been in childhood,” takes on sinister meaning as the novel develops. The plot is dark and gets darker, but at the same time, Greene threads subtle notes of possible connection throughout: the black woman sneers but offers advice and help; the child tells her “I can help you find love.” Moments of sly humor leaven the novel as well. Satisfyingly, the place Barbara gets to is as hard-won as any explorer’s mountaintop or ocean depth. Barbara earns it, and so does Greene.
A spooky, surreal ghost story that’s elevated by its humanity.
An inherited dream house turns into a nightmare in this debut California mystery.
Professional organizer Maggie McDonald was led to believe her family’s newly acquired 100-year-old American Craftsman home was move-in ready. But there is a major issue in the basement: a dead body. If that isn’t enough to make the home anything but turnkey, there are also holes in floorboards, broken windows, and electrical issues. Two phone calls worsen the situation. The first, to Maggie’s husband, Max, is from his boss telling him to fly to Bangalore immediately. The second is from movers who report the family’s belongings won’t arrive until the next week. Maggie’s organizational skills are put to the test as she gets her sons enrolled in school, immerses herself in her new community, and deals with a house full of detectives and family pets (two cats and a golden retriever) but devoid of furniture. She also makes arrangements to make the home livable, though it’s subjected to ongoing vandalism. When she finds another body, her to-do list includes finding the killer in her tightknit community. Creepiness—a dead squirrel impaled on the porch, an electrical box rigged to catch fire—is well-captured in the novel, as is humor. Maggie is known to compensate with carbs when things go awry, and they often do (cookie-eating punctuates the book). Details are endearing: an older woman’s living room has a doorframe with the faded marks of a growth chart; the McDonalds use sign language to say “I love you.” Maggie’s kids are intriguing, and her new acquaintances eclectic. Feliz is strong at characterization; a strict principal is known for slapping shut the cover of her iPad, and a burly war veteran needs tissues to tell of rescuing a puppy from a dumpster (“I stuffed him in my shirt, fleas and all”). Breaking up the first-person narrative are emails between Maggie and India-based Max, and each chapter begins with a helpful planning suggestion From the Notebook of Maggie McDonald / Simplicity Itself Organizing Services, such as “Sometimes, life gets in the way, and there are other things far more important to attend to than being organized.” Indeed.
A skillful amateur detective with an impressive to-do list emerges in this inventive series opener.
Briggs (Violet, 2015, etc.) offers a haunting, gothic mystery set in Northern England.
Felicity “Lissa” Godwin was a rising star in the classical music world until a series of tragic deaths and professional disappointments caused the gifted harpist to abandon her promising career. The young American woman journeys to the frozen, windswept Yorkshire Dales in search of healing and peace. There, the dignified beauty of an old country estate serves as the perfect setting for Briggs’ sublime cast of characters and arresting narrative. Lissa’s destination, Denham House, is more than just a country retreat; it was also once the home of her recently deceased aunt, acclaimed harpist Ciara Rossi. Lissa falls in love with Yorkshire and discovers not only familial affection, but an unexpected reignition of her musical passion. She’s further caught off guard by the handsome, mysterious, and extraordinarily talented Dr. Richard D’Annunzio. A series of accidents, unexplained occurrences, and whispered rumors hint at dark secrets lurking within the house’s staid walls and behind the inhabitants’ courtly manners. Briggs deftly lays the groundwork for a gripping mystery, suggesting that Ciara’s short-lived marriage to her husband, John, may not have been the fairy tale that it appeared to be. Briggs is a lyrical writer who composes her narrative with a skillful hand. Her evocative prose draws on elements of literature and music to describe such things as Lissa’s stunning concert dress, which conjures images of “Isolde dreaming of Tristan, watching the restless heaving of a cold Cornish sea.” She also expertly imbues her characters’ musical performances with a tension and emotion that are truly breathtaking; Briggs draws upon her own experiences as a harpist when describing a transition from an intermezzo to a finale, which Lissa feels as “an ironic, disillusioned snarl that cut into my heart.”
To be fleeing cops and bad guys is scary enough, but imagine, as novelist Ruiz (Giuseppe Rocco, 2017, etc.) does, that you’re also schizophrenic—and on the run, as it were, from yourself.
The author tells his tale through the eyes and mind of Ray Lopez (aka Jimmy Ramirez), a poor kid from California’s Central Valley. Ray is a good kid who gets drawn into the schemes of his shady cousin, ex-con Billy Cisneros, which involve shepherding bags of cash. On top of that, Ray has recently had his first psychotic episode. The drug Zyprexa keeps him stabilized and keeps the voices at bay, but paranoid Ray feels that he has to get out of town, as he’s convinced that Billy’s associates or the cops are hot on his trail. He flees with a duffel bag of clothes and a gym bag full of C-notes. He makes it to Los Angeles and is advised by a fellow bus passenger that Mexico might mean safety—but he must go to Nuevo Laredo, not Tijuana or Juarez. So he boards a Greyhound bus (which he calls “ridin’ the Dog”); it’s a miserable trek, as Ruiz makes clear, for people who cannot afford to travel any other way. All the while, Ray is terrified of being found out and has precious few Zyprexa pills left. In Laredo, he warily makes friends with a street-wise kid named Joey Reyes, who offers to get him into Mexico to get his prescription filled. Ruiz is a strikingly good writer, and his chapter detailing Ray’s “break”—and the terrifying, evil voices in his head—is a sojourn in hell; readers will understand why Ray is in a panic to get his prescription refilled and why the voices terrify him. Obstacles multiply endlessly, and the descriptions of Ray’s long days and nights on the bus, and of the dreary and dehumanizing bus terminals, will likely make many readers deeply grateful for their better circumstances. Ruiz proves to be a very sharp social critic, and no detail gets past him in this richly imagined book.
A highly recommended novel that appeals to both the heart and the head.