A bracing page-turner with an unconventional hero.

MURDER LLC

A woman hires a private eye to find her missing brother—who is in trouble with a ruthless Mexican drug cartel leader—in this novel.

Damian Playa, a disillusioned cartel hit man looking to leave the life, has a simple job: Go to a Las Vegas casino, buy $400,000 worth of chips, place a few skimpy bets at a poker table, and cash out. Failure to do so will mean the gang rape and violent deaths of his mother and girlfriend. But after he wins a couple of bets at the roulette table, even that threat isn’t enough to stop Damian from going all in. Inevitably, he loses it all and disappears. His sister, Araceli, hires private investigator Scott Brody to find him. She describes Damian as “a three-time no-talent loser” and tells Brody she does not want the police informed about the situation. “If Damian’s involved in something dirty, like I suspect, I don’t want the cops finding out about it,” she explains. The investigation, inevitably, is not as cut-and-dried as a mere missing person case. It turns out that Don Gaetano’s Cobalt Green Tide cartel is into some deep state doings, and Brody must grapple with an insidious governmental conspiracy and players with hidden agendas. Brody is an epileptic, which is a unique vulnerability that deftly establishes him as a fighter who refuses to quit while allowing Cassiday to indulge in some tony literary allusions. (Brody frequents a website for those who share his disability and uses the name Myshkin from Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot.) As a scene-setter, Cassiday effectively grabs readers (“Three nuns packing guns under their black habits riding in a silver Range Rover SUV drove up to a small Catholic church” is the gripping book’s opener). The dialogue, though, is a bit hit and miss in this fast-paced tale.

A bracing page-turner with an unconventional hero.

Pub Date: June 9, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 364

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2020

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A poignant and lyrical novel that asks what is worth sacrificing for peace—and provides some answers.

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NORTHERN SPY

Berry delivers a taut and compassionate thriller as young mother Tessa is drawn into working as a double agent in the Irish Republican Army to protect her sister.

It's been years since the Good Friday Agreement was signed, but tensions in Northern Ireland remain at a constant simmer. Tessa moves through the simple motions of her life: taking care of her infant son, working at the BBC News Belfast bureau, spending time with her mother and sister. The physical isolation and beauty of her home village hint at the possibility of a world in which one doesn’t always have to be alert for terrorists; Tessa is old enough, however, to remember the Troubles, and she fears that the IRA will never truly surrender. Still, it comes as a shock at work one day when she sees a video of her sister participating in an IRA robbery. But even more shocking is the revelation that comes from Marian herself once she is able to reach out to Tessa: She's been a member of the IRA for seven years, drawn in by their talk about economic inequality, and has recently begun feeding information to MI5 in order to create space for peace talks. After a bomb she created for the IRA failed to blow up, though, she's under constant surveillance and can no longer meet with her British handler. And so Tessa joins her sister as a double agent: She's accepted by Marian’s crew and asked to do increasingly dangerous tasks for the IRA, which she then reports to her handler. Days of espionage are balanced by quiet moments with her son as Tessa comes to realize that putting herself in danger is justified, even necessary, if she wants him to grow up in a safer Ireland. Berry's use of short chapters, often divided into several smaller episodes, is particularly effective in reflecting Tessa's fragmented sense of loyalty and safety. This is not a book of action, though there is plenty, but instead a greater reflection on personal choice and consequence.

A poignant and lyrical novel that asks what is worth sacrificing for peace—and provides some answers.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-73-522499-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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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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