Good enough while it lasts, but richer characters would have made it last longer.

THE MULBERRY BUSH

Classic noir themes of trust, motive, and tarnished ideals spin through this mordant, cerebral thriller about an agent on a two-tiered mission.

Veteran thriller author and former CIA op McCarry opens this latest with a cracking good setup. The narrator, an intelligence agent never named, bitterly recalls his father’s fate at the hands of Headquarters, an agency that clearly represents the CIA. To spite his bosses for thwarting his career, the father, acting independently, took in a Russian spy whose plea for amnesty may have been the genuine article or a ploy to infiltrate Headquarters, an uncertainty the father hoped would frustrate his superiors. Outraged by this dark prank, the men at Headquarters cut the father loose, stripping him of his benefits. In vivid, stinging scenes, the son recalls his father’s swift, tragic demise and vows revenge: he’ll pursue a mission that seemingly benefits, but really devastates, Headquarters. The narrator’s bilevel junket sends him to Buenos Aires, where he works with, and against, a group of revolutionaries with ties to Russia. He falls in love with one of them, Luz, a voluptuary who seems to have wandered into the plot from a 1960s Bond movie and/or a gig at the Playboy Mansion—she spends most of her time in bed pleasuring the narrator. This lack of development extends to other secondary characters, dogging the novel, especially in its midsection. Here, the narrator works through a cat’s cradle of agents and terrorists. Their uncertain, shifting, and negotiable actions lucidly illustrate the methods of spies at work, but as these characters are defined by little more than their intentions, their scenes become redundant. The narrator’s handlers, a nest of sly snakes, are somewhat more sharply developed. They send the narrator on a final errand that bookends the tale’s swift, exciting start and reaches a splendidly ironic resolution.

Good enough while it lasts, but richer characters would have made it last longer.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2410-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Mysterious Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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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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