A story and protagonist shrouded in mystery run through with suspense and espionage.

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THE METAPHOR DECEPTION

In Adams’ debut techno-thriller, a cunning mathematical genius in Baltimore has to prove he’s not a mole working for North Korea by exposing the real one.

When the North Koreans take out a CIA safe house based on information they intercepted from the Presidential Secure Cell Phone, the National Security Agency immediately suspects that its employee John Nichols is somehow responsible for the breach. Nichols is the creator of the METAPHOR algorithm, a reputedly unhackable encryption designed to protect the PRESCEPH program. Actually, Nichols is a mole for the Russians, who now believe he’s passing secrets to North Korea; the Russians give him two weeks to track down the one who’s truly behind it. Nichols starts his search at Fourier, the San Diego company that developed the hardware chip for the PRESCEPH. There, he reconnects (in more ways than one) with former NSA co-worker Erica May. As a new hire, he covertly investigates Fourier and can only hope that the mole hunt doesn’t lead him to Erica. The author knows how to heighten anticipation: After Nichols’ Russian handler gives him his ultimatum, the novel skips ahead past the two-week deadline, where readers learn that Nichols has been detained and his daughter, Laura, was abducted. The plot then alternates between Nichols telling his story to Travis Jackson of the U.S. Justice Department and the days leading up to his arrest. The protagonist is delectably perplexing because it’s initially unclear (even to readers, who know more than Jackson) that Nichols genuinely isn’t under North Korea’s thumb. At the same time, Nichols is humanized by the adoration he has for Laura and flashbacks to a young Ilia (soon to be John) in Russia unwittingly enlisted by government agents. Adams enriches the story with numerous characters, including FBI agent Joe Connor, who’s monitoring Jackson’s interrogation, and the enigmatic Hank, who shadows Nichols for an unknown party and occasionally threatens the man he’s watching. There are also a few dead bodies before it’s all over as well as apt displays of Nichols’ hand-to-hand skills. Despite the technology-laden plot, Adams keeps the story relatively simple, never unnecessarily explaining how the METAPHOR algorithm operates or spending too much time establishing Nichols’ exceptional intelligence.

A story and protagonist shrouded in mystery run through with suspense and espionage.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-1502754592

Page Count: 322

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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