A stirring and realistic espionage novel.

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RED STATES

In Jones’ (D8 with F8, 2014, etc.) thriller, two CIA agents go up against a Chinese gang leader whose plan involves a gradual takeover of the United States government.

CIA operatives Zasha Davis and Cole Peterson are in China to gather intelligence on the Silent Dragon Triad, which has ties to human smuggling. In Hong Kong, the incognito agents meet Zasha’s former college roommate, jazz singer Jenna Roulette, who introduces them to her Russian friend Vladimir Nikitin, who’ll be traveling to Beijing on business. Nikitin is ex–KGB, and Zasha and Cole believe that he has a deal brewing with the triad. Beijing is the agents’ destination, too, and CIA surveillance quickly uncovers Silent Dragon leader Zhang Ju’s plan to smuggle a large number of Chinese and Mexican immigrants into the United States with falsified citizenship papers so that they may vote for preselected candidates. Zhang could then theoretically control the U.S. Congress—and perhaps the presidency. CIA director Jessie James Carson wants harder evidence of the plot; Zhang is working with a Chinese general and the nation’s premier of State Council, so unfounded accusations could spark an international incident. But Zhang manages to be one step ahead of the agency as his increasingly complicated scheme entails a secret, lethal event. Zasha, Cole, and other agents, along with CIA assets, strive to uncover specifics of the impending strike. Intermittent gunfights ensue as Zhang stays on the move, leaving occasional corpses in his wake. Time’s running short for the agents, who are unaware that the timing of the upcoming attack coincides with a major holiday. Jones establishes a steady momentum with short scenes that keep the characters busy with a variety of complex tasks. At one point, for example, Zasha and Cole must help an asset who’s in deep with Zhang by ensuring that their daughter will be safe from possible harm. There are plenty of surprises, as well, including unexpected allegiances and betrayals, and several deaths. Although it’s clear that Zasha and Cole are skilled in combat, the author effectively showcases other character traits, as well. There’s subtle romance, for example; the two delight in shared intimacy, even when it’s just part of their cover. The mission later becomes personal for Zasha when it appears that Jenna is in imminent danger. Jones’ spy story steers clear of James Bond–style territory; there’s no sign of grandiose villains or unbelievable gadgets. Indeed, characters creatively employ familiar technological solutions, such as using cellphones to listen in on people’s conversations. That said, there are some strangely worded tech descriptions at times, as when a character sends a message to another’s “text center” or when someone “checked for messages from CIA headquarters, which would have come in under a completely obscure ISP.” However, the already fast pace gets even faster during the final act, which offers more than one twist. Several notable characters, particularly CIA Agent Julie Hu, would be welcome in a sequel—or, if necessary, a prequel.

A stirring and realistic espionage novel.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9715899-4-0

Page Count: 317

Publisher: Brown Bag Books LLC

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2019

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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