An optimistic adventure set against the ugliness of modern warfare in Syria.


American for Sale


A CIA–trained family man must escape the clutches of Middle Eastern extremists in this sequel to Spy Mates (2013).

In Adelphi, Maryland, Bret and Chu-lin Lee are attending their daughter’s high school graduation. Rachel is the third of the Lees’ four children to leave the nest (their youngest being teenager Caleb), and the couple decide to take a trip before Bret’s teaching post at the University of Maryland resumes in September. Chu-lin convinces her husband to visit China to see her parents and 98-year-old grandmother. When they reach a stopover at the Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport en route to Beijing, Bret leaves the plane to buy some reading material and use the restroom. In the restroom, three Chinese men accost and kidnap Bret, hoping to sell a potentially valuable American. While Chu-lin eventually enlists the help of Julien Jasper Jones—Bret’s former boss with a “quasi-governmental” spy ring—a Pakistani named Aasim buys the college professor for $20,000. Bret travels via camel and car through Karachi and into Syria, where he changes hands once again, this time to the self-styled New Islamic Caliphate, or the Islamic State. In Raqqah, he’s tossed into a warehouse prison that’s “thick with acrid waste smells and sweaty unwashed body odors” as well as the occasional screams of prisoners. Luckily, the protagonist maintains his rugged wit despite beatings and the threat of a videotaped beheading. The narrative thread focusing on Bret proceeds in brisk tandem with Jones’ efforts to rescue him using numerous contacts and the latest satellite technology. Van Soye (The Renewables, 2014, etc.) illustrates the harsh realities of battling terror when readers are reminded that “the payment of ransom would encourage terrorists all over the world to kidnap more Americans.” Nevertheless, the plot delivers all-too-fortuitous alcoholic Muslims and beautiful freedom fighters, who help Bret escape danger and position himself as a key figure in halting the Syrian civil war. Still, this is a breezy read, regardless of its grim subject matter, and enjoyable whether or not a reader has read the previous installment.

An optimistic adventure set against the ugliness of modern warfare in Syria.

Pub Date: May 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5302-0938-5

Page Count: 252

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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Amateurish, with a twist savvy readers will see coming from a mile away.


A woman accused of shooting her husband six times in the face refuses to speak.

"Alicia Berenson was thirty-three years old when she killed her husband. They had been married for seven years. They were both artists—Alicia was a painter, and Gabriel was a well-known fashion photographer." Michaelides' debut is narrated in the voice of psychotherapist Theo Faber, who applies for a job at the institution where Alicia is incarcerated because he's fascinated with her case and believes he will be able to get her to talk. The narration of the increasingly unrealistic events that follow is interwoven with excerpts from Alicia's diary. Ah, yes, the old interwoven diary trick. When you read Alicia's diary you'll conclude the woman could well have been a novelist instead of a painter because it contains page after page of detailed dialogue, scenes, and conversations quite unlike those in any journal you've ever seen. " 'What's the matter?' 'I can't talk about it on the phone, I need to see you.' 'It's just—I'm not sure I can make it up to Cambridge at the minute.' 'I'll come to you. This afternoon. Okay?' Something in Paul's voice made me agree without thinking about it. He sounded desperate. 'Okay. Are you sure you can't tell me about it now?' 'I'll see you later.' Paul hung up." Wouldn't all this appear in a diary as "Paul wouldn't tell me what was wrong"? An even more improbable entry is the one that pins the tail on the killer. While much of the book is clumsy, contrived, and silly, it is while reading passages of the diary that one may actually find oneself laughing out loud.

Amateurish, with a twist savvy readers will see coming from a mile away.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-30169-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.


Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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