An entertaining literary thriller that traces intrigue from the writer’s mind to the latest headlines.

A LONELY MAN

Will a man’s tales of Russian oligarchs and murders be a blocked writer’s salvation or his doom?

It’s been two years since British writer Power’s well-received fiction debut (Mothers: Stories, 2019), and it’s been four years since the publication of the debut story collection of his lead character, Robert Prowe (hmm). But Robert is blocked now and well past deadline on his contracted first novel while Power, of course, has delivered his. Robert is living in Berlin with his wife and two daughters when he meets fellow Briton Patrick, a ghostwriter. Their acquaintance grows to something like friendship as Patrick reveals his ties to a Russian millionaire who hired him to write about his rags-to-riches life and how he fell afoul of Putin. The oligarch, who gives Patrick computer files damaging to the Russian ruler, dies mysteriously, and Patrick fears he will be targeted next by the Kremlin’s thugs. Robert is skeptical about all this but recognizes good material for the novel he needs to write and so encourages Patrick to keep talking. Then strange things start to happen: A window that’s always locked is found open, a friend commits suicide, and on and on. There are familiar questions raised here about how writers get and use material from real life, but what Power does cleverly is make them part of the story’s rising suspense, stoking the tension and disconnect between Robert and Patrick and even inserting some novel within the novel as the narrative intermittently shifts into Robert’s fictional rendering of Patrick’s adventures with the oligarch. Power’s understated style abets the tension, creating gaps and unanswered questions that pull the reader along, recalling Hermione Lee’s description of Penelope Fitzgerald’s prose as “plain, compact, and subtle,” leaving “much unsaid."

An entertaining literary thriller that traces intrigue from the writer’s mind to the latest headlines.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-29844-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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Fast-paced fun that’s fraught with peril. The Bells are such a nice couple.

THE SABOTEURS

Malign forces want to slow completion of the Panama Canal, but Isaac Bell has plenty to say about that in his 12th tale of derring-do.

In 1914, the U.S. is digging an enormous ditch across the mosquito-infested isthmus of Panama, with “mechanical dragons wreathed in steam” ripping out eight tons at a time in the Culebra Cut. Horrific incidents happen, and they’re not always accidents. A mysterious terrorist group called Viboras Rojas, or Red Vipers, seems responsible for an explosion that kills dozens and delays the canal’s construction. Isaac Bell of the Van Dorn Detective Agency is sent there to investigate, and a team of wild horses wouldn’t keep his wife, Marion, from coming along. Bell keeps mighty busy. Within days, he’s “thwarted an assassination attempt and brought a mad bomber to heel,” and he’s just getting started. The detective is exceptionally observant and ingenious. How he survives a catastrophic landslide is such a combination of quick thinking and luck that readers will hold their breath as they turn the pages, only realizing later how unlikely it all is. Meanwhile, Germany conspires with Argentina to severely delay the canal’s opening—Argentina would lose plenty of oceangoing commerce, and as it girds for war in Europe, Germany fears America’s rise as a global power. The proximate villain is Otto Dreissen, who correctly believes that former President Teddy Roosevelt won’t be able to resist traveling to see “the most transformative engineering feat in history…dangers be damned”—and there is danger, since the kaiser has authorized Roosevelt's assassination. But first Dreissen must arrange an “accident” for Bell, the “man with the nine lives of a cat.” Poor Otto. He should know it’s not that easy to kill off a series hero. Nor a series hero’s wife, even when she’s dangling from a dirigible. A bonus tip to readers: Stay away from manchineel trees and superheated steam.

Fast-paced fun that’s fraught with peril. The Bells are such a nice couple.

Pub Date: May 25, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-19122-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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The first of Woods’ many collaborations to be unquestionably inferior to his solo performances.

JACKPOT

CIA operative–turned-killer Teddy Fay, aka Hollywood producer Billy Barnett, gets his fifth sort-of-starring role in a splashy, muddled thriller set in Macau.

Centurion Studios president Ben Bacchetti and his partner, director Peter Barrington, see no reason why their visit to the Macau Film Festival should be all business. They’re dismayed when their visit to a baccarat table at the Golden Desert Casino and Resort is used as material for a deep-fake video that seems to show them cheating. The video, which has evidently been engineered by Bing-Wen “Bingo” Jo, bids fair drag them into the iron grip of fearsome media/casino mogul Arrow Donaldson, for whom Bingo works off the books on matters concerning digital technology and violence. But Centurion producer Teddy, who’s every bit the equal of Bingo and Donaldson fixer Zhou "Ziggy" Peng put together, is on the case. His improbable sometime partners are Li Feng, the heiress and CFO of QuiTel who’s fighting to keep her company exempt from the U.S. blacklist of competing Chinese telecom corporations suspected of spying, and Millie Martindale, a CIA administrator who’s a lot more resourceful than most administrators you’ll ever meet. The first partnership between Woods and Quertermous is full of casino underlings, biddable cops, fake shootings, and doubles living and dead. But the plot never thickens, and readers confident that Teddy will live to fight, pressure, cheat, and kill another day may be indifferent to the fate of the nefarious forces arrayed against him.

The first of Woods’ many collaborations to be unquestionably inferior to his solo performances.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18845-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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