A smart, somewhat passive protagonist leads a dark, measured tale set in the business world.

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ASSET STRIPPERS

An asset stripper’s life becomes complicated by the murders of people linked to his family and various threats to the American company he plans to acquire in this debut thriller.

Maximilian “Maxi” de Beaulieu d’Appremont isn’t even aware of the corpse on his property until authorities arrive at his French château. The decapitated body may belong to Chris Ward, from whom Maxi had just received a cryptic note requesting his help. Ward had worked for the Beaulieu family company in Africa more than a decade ago, as had Michael Holcomb, another recent murder victim who, at the time of his demise, had Maxi’s address in his briefcase. It seems a man named Vincent Kaine has launched an inquiry into Maxi, believing he knows the location of hidden money Kaine and others collected illicitly. As this connects to Maxi’s dead Uncle Charles, he peruses his relative’s extensive diaries while looking for information on Mark Ramaloh, the man now investigating him. At the same time, Maxi is in the process of purchasing RTG Environmental Engineering Inc., an Alabama company on the verge of bankruptcy. His visit to the company in Birmingham is met with unveiled animosity from employees. They’re upset about a European buying RTGEE but may also be aware that Maxi suspects ongoing fraud within the company. Maxi befriends—and quickly falls for—whip-smart CEO assistant Linda Porter, one of the individuals who discovered the fraud. Soon sinister notes become physical intimidation, putting Maxi and Linda in danger from incensed workers or possibly someone from Charles’ past. Berger’s lengthy narrative is predominantly dialogue that’s rife with dense backstory (characters tied to Charles or Kaine) and business dealings. The tale not only succeeds in shedding light on the practice of asset stripping, but also manages to demonstrate its value. Maxi’s purchase of RTGEE, for example, will lead to job losses in Birmingham but simultaneously save the parent company and secure thousands of positions in four other countries. Corresponding business transactions are always comprehensible, courtesy of the author’s sharp but meticulous prose ensuring clarity. Maxi is a curious protagonist. He’s an intelligent businessman who realistically isn’t trained in fisticuffs; when a crowbar-brandishing employee accosts him, he’s understandably shaken. In the same vein, Maxi does very little on his own. Pertinent details on Charles’ history, Ramaloh’s background, or RTGEE workers are gathered by other characters, who relay the information to Maxi. One of those players is Linda, and the romance she shares with Maxi is convincing, effectively heightening a later scene when threats in Birmingham instigate someone’s serious injury. Despite its bulk and a bevy of characters, the story doesn’t pile on mysteries, concentrating mostly on Maxi’s predicament in America. Regardless, the concurrent plots deepen as the novel progresses, including additional murders and anonymous menacing notes. With that in mind, the final act is a bit disappointing. There’s a surprising abundance of lingering questions near the end that Maxi seems content with leaving unresolved, even if readers won’t be.

A smart, somewhat passive protagonist leads a dark, measured tale set in the business world.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 692

Publisher: Kurti Publishing

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2018

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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THE LAST TRIAL

Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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