Sure to please fans of governmental intrigue and fast-paced suspense; puts swift prose, commanding characterization, and...

THE SHEPHERD'S CALCULUS

Religion and politics prove malevolent bedfellows in this serpentine debut that employs a variety of modern, headline-making conundrums.

Farrelly’s riveting political thriller begins with the momentous death of a Jesuit priest coinciding with the faltering re-election prospects for an American president. The accidental demise of Father James Ingram, president of Ignatius University, has journalist Peter Merrick upset, particularly because Ingram was his mentor. Merrick had just returned from a harrowing reporting assignment that took its toll on both his emotional and physical well-being. Meanwhile, incumbent conservative U.S. president Arthur Wyncott becomes anxious when his bid for re-election seems to be tanking as popularity surges for his Independent party opponent, Thomas Archer. Bolstered by the promised votes from proletariats and minority and Catholic demographic groups, the heat is on for Wyncott to lure those undecided voters back to his side of the political race. The church, ever in the midst of a sexual abuse scandal, has seen better days, and Wyncott soon becomes desperate to reverse the damage at any cost. Boston-based Cardinal John Mulcahy employs the nefarious head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Owen Feeney, to micromanage and assuage the damage from the ballooning multimillion-dollar scandal as more and more abuse victims come forward. Farrelly dexterously reveals plot points (crowned with a sordid coverup scheme) and allows them to develop gradually as the presidential election nears. Merrick finds himself embroiled in the melodrama after he is asked to write Ingram’s eulogy, which requires some research into his instructor’s history. In his friend’s belongings, he finds unopened, returned letters to the victims of abuse occurring at various parishes he’d been assigned to. Merrick’s diligent spadework reveals the somewhat unsurprising true culprit. Even the supporting characters and subplots are compelling, including Merrick’s wife, Emma, their marital back story, and particularly Ally Larkin, President Wyncott’s astute campaign assistant, who emerges as an ethical, clever woman whose nobility and keen sense of right and wrong help guide her-decision making, even as the stakes veer higher and the manipulative political machinations multiply. By the time this page-turner reaches maximum velocity, a fine balance has effectively been established between political intrigue and religious scandal. Though probably not a good fit for world-weary readers looking for an escape, Farrelly’s command of hot-button issues is impeccable. The priest abuse scandal seems ripped from today’s newswires as much as the desperate, calculated political maneuvers of a presidential candidate up for re-election. Readers will find themselves in for a striking, remarkable politically correct political thriller with a conscience.

Sure to please fans of governmental intrigue and fast-paced suspense; puts swift prose, commanding characterization, and contemporary hot topics to grand use.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Cavan Bridge Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2017

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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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