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MOSCOW STING

A twisty, persuasive, action-packed thriller, only slightly marred by a hurried ending.

Pseudonymous Brit journalist Dryden is back with another fine neo–Cold War spy thriller, the sequel to Red to Black (2009).

The first novel was a throwback, a le Carré–ish espionage yarn that pitted ruthless Russia against the West—but with the twist that this was not the Soviet regime but Putin’s resurgent authoritarianism. This book stylishly carries the story forward. It’s 2008. Former Russian agent Anna Bereft is bereft after the loss of her husband, Finn, to an assassin’s poison in the last book’s finale. She retires to a secluded Provençal village, where she lives under the French government’s rather lax protection. She’s being sought by the vengeful Russians, who want to punish her betrayal, and by the equally vengeful Brits, who want to kill the man responsible for the death of their ex-agent, Finn, and who can use her as an information source or a bargaining chip. When an American freelancer, a one-time rising star scapegoated and fired by the CIA, discovers her whereabouts and offers to divulge them to the highest bidder, Anna winds up under the protection (so-called) of American Burt Miller, head of one of the powerful private contractors to whom the United States is ceding control of intelligence-gathering and covert operations. The Americans try simultaneously to cultivate Anna and interrogate her, and the book’s most intriguing section is the long middle one in which we watch two cool and cunning pros, Anna and Burt (with the connivance of various employees), spar, feel each other out, try to manipulate and use each other to accomplish agendas only partially revealed. She is an ever-shifting combination of friend, ally, asset, instrument and hostile captive, and Burt’s job is to get her, more or less of her own volition and for her own reasons, to expose and bring over the highly placed Russian, Mikhail, who was her dead husband’s trusted source in the Kremlin and whose identity he believes she knows.

A twisty, persuasive, action-packed thriller, only slightly marred by a hurried ending.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-06-196684-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2010

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z(2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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