Meltzer doesn’t weigh his supernova plot down with niceties like political policy (the president could be Bush, Gore, or...

THE FIRST COUNSEL

Meltzer’s third high-octane thriller (Dead Even, 1998, etc.) sinks a junior White House staffer in the world of woes that result when he accepts a date with the president’s daughter.

Accepts a date, because Nora Hartson is even more hard-charging than her father: she’s a determined, demented go-getter who knows and takes whatever she wants. What she wants now out of Michael Garrick is ditching her Secret Service escorts and going on a joyride to what turns out to be a gay bar in Adams Morgan, where she and Michael spot his boss, straight-arrow White House counsel Edgar Simon, and tail him to an isolated place where he drops off a packet containing $40,000—$10,000 of which Nora impulsively retrieves just ahead of the addressee. Things rapidly go from bad to worse: the cops catch Michael driving around with the undocumented cash; when he tells his story to White House ethics chief Caroline Penzler, she replies that Simon’s just told the same story about him; then Penzler’s murdered, with every indication that Michael admitted her killer to the impregnable Old Executive Office Building. On cue, the press closes in, the FBI closes in, the suspected killer closes in—and Michael’s left to battle them all, fighting for his job, the president’s reputation, and his life, wondering all the while how much he can trust the friends he’s counting on to feed him information and lie on his behalf. He’s also increasingly certain that the First Daughter who got him into this mess is a piece of work beyond his wildest imaginings.

Meltzer doesn’t weigh his supernova plot down with niceties like political policy (the president could be Bush, Gore, or Grover Cleveland), authentic spycraft (the cloak-and-dagger stuff sounds lame even to Michael), or psychology (apart from Michael, every single character remains shadowy except the one code-named Shadow). Nothing gets in the way of the adrenaline jolt Meltzer delivers like a master.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2001

ISBN: 0-446-52728-9

Page Count: 479

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2000

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

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DEVOLUTION

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. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless...

SPLIT SECOND

Two defrocked Secret Service Agents investigate the assassination of one presidential candidate and the kidnapping of another.

Baldacci (The Christmas Train, 2002, etc.) sets out with two plot strands. The first begins when something distracts Secret Service Agent Sean King and during that “split second,” presidential candidate Clyde Ritter is shot dead. King takes out the killer, but that’s not enough to save his reputation with the Secret Service. He retires and goes on to do often tedious but nonetheless always lucrative work (much like a legal thriller such as this) at a law practice. Plot two begins eight years later when another Secret Service Agent, Michelle Maxwell, lets presidential candidate John Bruno out of her sight for a few minutes at a wake for one of his close associates. He goes missing. Now Maxwell, too, gets in dutch with the SS. Though separated by time, the cases are similar and leave several questions unanswered. What distracted King at the rally? Bruno had claimed his friend’s widow called him to the funeral home. The widow (one of the few characters here to have any life) says she never called Bruno. Who set him up? Who did a chambermaid at Ritter’s hotel blackmail? And who is the man in the Buick shadowing King’s and Maxwell’s every move? King is a handsome, rich divorce, Maxwell an attractive marathon runner. Will they join forces and find each other kind of, well, appealing? But of course. The two former agents traverse the countryside, spinning endless hypotheses before the onset, at last, of a jerrybuilt conclusion that begs credibility and offers few surprises.

Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless concoction.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2003

ISBN: 0-446-53089-1

Page Count: 406

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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