An often diverting sci-fi tale for fans of traditional superheroes, with just the right amount of real-world drama.

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NORCAL 2025

In Garwin’s debut thriller, an ordinary group of civilians find themselves acting as superheroes in a serious battle against governmental corruption.

In 2025, Northern California, or Norcal, is the site of the “Great Experiment,” in which participating citizens live in a heavily monitored area with its own Internet known as “the grid.” There, the government tests various programs in trial runs. It’s also there that San Francisco business attorney Chance sometimes dons a mask and fedora and subverts cab thieves as Cabman; he joins forces with Privilege Woman (aka Sarah) and Cellman (aka Chris). They were inspired to pursue superheroics by a journalist’s articles, which also supplied their team’s name: Gosh, or Group of Ordinary Superheroes. Soon an unscrupulous Washington lawyer, Roger Littleford, spurs the group into more dangerous territory when he targets an auditor, Alex, whose investigation threatens his power. Chance and the others decide to protect Alex, who may be hiding something from her rescuers. Much of the story’s charm comes from its familiarity, as the powerless superheroes have relevant objectives; Sarah goes after a greedy college professor, for example, and Chris snatches cellphones from impolite talkers and texters. Likewise, in spite of the sci-fi title and setting, Norcal is also instantly recognizable: The residents, affixed with wirelessly linked contact lenses and injected with computer chips, suffer a lack of privacy, just as people today are at the mercy of GPS and social networking. The heroes are intriguing not only for their strengths (Wynn Warburton, a former Navy SEAL, trains them in Japanese martial arts and weapons), but also for their flaws (Chris bases his decisions on whatever Chance decides). That said, the predictable romance between Chance and Alex offers no surprises. Littleford, meanwhile, is a drolly transparent villain; he names his company Smug after someone uses that word to describe him, and the vile manner in which he obtains an alternate energy source will incite most readers’ ire. Garwin also transforms his tongue-in-cheek story into a grimmer tale with skilled ease; just because Gosh strives to avoid violence, it doesn’t mean that its members always do so, and it certainly doesn’t defend them from potentially fatal encounters.

An often diverting sci-fi tale for fans of traditional superheroes, with just the right amount of real-world drama.

Pub Date: July 31, 2014

ISBN: 978-1500444389

Page Count: 246

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

ONE GOOD DEED

Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

CROOKED RIVER

FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast finds evil afoot in his latest action-filled adventure (Verses for the Dead, 2018, etc.).

Imagine Florida beachcombers’ shock when they discover a shoe with a severed foot inside. Soon they see dozens more feet, all in identical shoes, bobbing toward the beach. Police and FBI ultimately count more than a hundred of them washing up on Sanibel and Captiva Islands' tranquil shores. Pendergast teams up with the junior Special Agent Armstrong Coldmoon to investigate this strange phenomenon. Oceanographers use a supercomputer to analyze Gulf currents and attempt to determine where the feet entered the ocean. Were they dumped off a ship or an island? Does each one represent a homicide? Analysts examine chemical residues and pollen, even the angle of each foot’s amputation, but the puzzle defies all explanation. Attention focuses on Cuba, where “something terrible was happening” in front of a coastal prison, and on China, the apparent source of the shoes. The clever plot is “a most baffling case indeed” for the brilliant Pendergast, but it’s the type of problem he thrives on. He’s hardly a stereotypical FBI agent, given for example his lemon-colored silk suit, his Panama hat, and his legendary insistence on working alone—until now. Pendergast rarely blinks—perhaps, someone surmises, he’s part reptile. But equally odd is Constance Greene, his “extraordinarily beautiful,” smart, and sarcastic young “ward” who has “eyes that had seen everything and, as a result, were surprised by nothing.” Coldmoon is more down to earth: part Lakota, part Italian, and “every inch a Fed.” Add in murderous drug dealers, an intrepid newspaper reporter, coyotes crossing the U.S.–Mexico border, and a pissed-off wannabe graphic novelist, and you have a thoroughly entertaining cast of characters. There is plenty of suspense, and the action gets bloody.

Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4725-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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