But to his fans, this is no more than a quibble: Muffin is back, and his followers will herald his return.

RED STAR BURNING

A talky thriller of rogues repeating half-truths in the hopes of manufacturing reality; a terrific story starring Freemantle’s Charlie Muffin.

Freemantle’s Muffin man returns for the 15th time, and the story seems to take up where his Red Star Rising (2010, etc.) left off. Charlie Muffin is in a safe house, out of the game, aching to return. Turns out Muffin has a wife and child in Russia. His wife, a Federal Security Service agent, charged with debriefing him after his faked defection, fell for him instead. After persuading his MI5 handlers that his wife and child are worth saving, Muffin makes himself indispensable to the team tasked with saving them. But there is no shortage of enemies, as many at home in England as in Russia. At least a double cross is on, if not a triple, and there’s genuine suspense in the unfolding origami. The book’s principal pleasure is the survey of mendacity in all its forms, from the self-serving, Shakespeare-spouting director of one of several intelligence services with skin in the game, to Cabinet Secretary Sir Archibald Bland. Even if the action is typical of the genre, the characters’ motives have an atypical excess of plausibility: These folks operate and backbite in a believable milieu of toxic office politics. If only Freemantle had the same confidence in his readers. The majority of the book is dialogue, and almost every speech appears in the equivalent of a color-coded thought bubble: Smith “echoed”; Bland “refused”; Palmer “stumbled.” This is a source of frustration for those of us who, completely engaged, want to intuit the tone of speeches that might be arch, but just might be heartfelt, the speaker actually believing what turns out to be utterly false a few pages later.

But to his fans, this is no more than a quibble: Muffin is back, and his followers will herald his return.

Pub Date: June 19, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-250-00636-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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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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The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once...

DELIVER US FROM EVIL

In Baldacci’s 19th (True Blue, 2009, etc.), boy and girl monster-hunters meet cute.

Evan Waller, aka Fadir Kuchin, aka “the Butcher of Kiev,” aka “the Ukrainian psychopath,” is one of those deep-dyed villains a certain kind of fiction can’t do without. Serving with distinction as part of the Soviet Union’s KGB, he joyfully and indiscriminately killed thousands. Now, many years later, posing as a successful businessman, he’s vacationing in Provence where, unbeknownst to him, two separate clandestine operations are being mounted by people who do not regard him with favor. Reggie Campion—28 and gorgeous—spearheads the first, an ad hoc group of monster-hunting vigilantes. Studly, tall Shaw (no first name supplied) is point guard for a rival team, shadowy enough to leave the matter of its origin ambiguous. While their respective teams reconnoiter and jockey for position, studly boy meets gorgeous girl. Monster-hunters are famous for having trust issues, but clearly these are drawn to each other in the time-honored Hollywood fashion. Shaw saves Reggie’s life. She returns the favor. The attraction deepens and heats up to the point where team-members on both sides grow unsettled by the loss of focus, singularly inopportune since, as monsters go, Waller rises to the second coming of Caligula—ample testimony furnished by a six-page, unsparingly detailed torture scene. In the end, the stalkers strike, bullets fly, screams curdle the blood, love has its innings and a monster does what a monster’s got to do.

The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once again show the stuff it’s made of.

Pub Date: April 20, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-446-56408-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Avon A/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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