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A HOSTILE STATE

A solid cat-and-mouse thriller with a refreshing breakout character.

A compromised CIA agent makes a dangerous trek west while his stateside handler searches for answers.

In Lebanon, CIA deep cover specialist Marc Portman barely escapes an attack by an unsteady sniper. Acting quickly, Portman, who narrates his chapters in a gritty first-person, skillfully takes out his would-be Russian assassin and is rewarded by finding a picture of himself on the corpse. At that point, the tale embarks on a round-the-world circuit from Beirut to Moscow, where Konstantin Basalayev expresses frustration at the failed mission, to Langley, Virginia, where Portman’s CIA handler, Brian Callahan, expresses frustration that he’s the only one concerned with Portman’s safety. Portman’s rescue in Lebanon has come from a most unlikely source: middle-aged British operative Isobel Hunt, formerly with MI6, now an independent contractor with Her Majesty’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office. Just as she scoops up Portman and drives him to a safe house in a hijacked jeep, the maverick Isobel also hijacks and galvanizes Magson’s conventional plot and familiar characters. And Magson knows it: He credits “the real Isobel Hunt” in his acknowledgements. Sadly, after getting Portman safely to Cyprus, Isobel exits the story. In her place, Portman connects with CIA agent Lindsay Citera, but a key question nags Callahan: Who’s the CIA mole endangering Portman’s life? Writing with a crisp authority that’s both familiar and involving, Magson builds tension steadily. This author of three action series should consider a spinoff for the singular Ms. Hunt.

A solid cat-and-mouse thriller with a refreshing breakout character.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7278-5027-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Severn House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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TOM CLANCY ACT OF DEFIANCE

Well-paced excitement as the Ryans come through again.

Echoes of Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October reverberate four decades after the late author’s famous debut.

In 1984, Dimitri Gorov plans to deliver details of the advanced Soviet submarine Red October to the Americans, but Marko Ramius has already defected and delivered the boat itself. Gorov dies and now, decades later, his son Konstantin captains the Belgorod, Russia’s most advanced sub. Said sub goes rogue along with its nuclear-tipped torpedoes that can penetrate American defenses and blow up some of our coastal cities, or “wipe the American Atlantic fleet off the map.” Driven by multiple grievances, Konstantin wants to do just that, but a painful illness may bring him down. Meanwhile, young Navy lieutenant Kathleen (Katie, please) Ryan plays one of several key roles in trying to stop World War III. She’s smart and appealing and tries hard to downplay the fact that she’s President Jack Ryan’s daughter—“Daddy’s little girl,” as a snarky officer says to her face. In one nail-biting scene a helicopter tries to transfer her from a ship to a submarine in the open ocean. As with every novel in the series, readers are treated to a ton of technical details and asides that slow the reading occasionally, but without which it would not be a Clancy yarn. And of course, there is the obligatory establishment of what fine all-around Americans the Ryans are. Plenty of well-crafted characters, Russian and American, make up the cast. War begins to brew as a Russian MiG is shot down and troubles threaten to escalate. At one point, Katie “felt like the entire world was barreling toward oblivion and she was the only one who could stop it.” But wait: Late in the game, Konstantin muses, “There is nothing the Americans can do to stop me.” Who is right? Hmm, that’s a tough one. In her proud father’s mind, Lieutenant Ryan becomes “Katie—my little girl turned naval officer overnight.”

Well-paced excitement as the Ryans come through again.

Pub Date: May 21, 2024

ISBN: 9780593422878

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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