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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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 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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