An uneven espionage tale.



In this World War II–set debut novel, a Romanian woman becomes an Allied spy but often finds herself just a pawn in a man’s world.

In 1939, Frans VonBrutal, a sadistic Nazi SS officer, motorcycles from Berlin toward Sofia, Bulgaria, looking for information (hopefully to be extracted with torture) and people to exploit. In Romania, he meets a beautiful young waitress named Gilda, who, despite being intelligent, is still attractive to men. Although Gilda is no friend to the SS, telling VonBrutal directly that he’s “a fucking Nazi asshole,” “a Nazi scumbag,” and a “putrid Nazi,” he decides not just to force sex upon her, but to employ her as a spy as well. This he manages despite her initial dislike: “When he lay on top of her, she welled up such a warmth of euphoria.” James Benson, an American spy with demigodlike charisma, meets and beds Gilda, now a nightclub dancer in Sofia. VonBrutal orders her to obtain James’ briefcase, but she falls abjectly in love with the American despite knowing she means nothing to him. After shooting VonBrutal and escaping, Gilda is told by Hans, a Hungarian recruiter, that she’ll travel to Central America to spy: “I am sure you will be just fine. After all, you have a perfect ass. Good luck.” Working as an entertainer, Gilda continues spying for her new handler, Stephon, a closeted homosexual in love with James, and attends Army Intelligence School. In Uruguay, VonBrutal shows up, threatening Gilda, who again shoots him. After the war, Gilda waitresses, then becomes a Pan Am stewardess, a cover for her covert activities, which now include assassination. In Cairo, she has a third bloody confrontation with the hard-to-kill VonBrutal. Used, abused, set up, and abandoned, Gilda nevertheless hangs on to hope. In her ambitious novel, O’Hara provides engrossing, well-researched details of early espionage organizations. But she never seems sure about what kind of book she’s writing: Nazi-themed murder porn? Steamy spy thriller? Romance for the ages? Political outcry on behalf of women’s dignity? All of these elements are in place, but they clash roughly and often unconvincingly, as when James’ sordid relationship with Gilda is characterized by the grand phrase “the two were to be separated between oceans, war, and time itself.” Rather than developing her themes, the author repeats them, often almost verbatim. “Sex and violence go hand in hand,” thinks VonBrutal’s wife; six pages later, “Sex and violence went hand in hand,” thinks VonBrutal. O’Hara’s lack of subtlety makes the work’s pronouncements heavy-handed. As long as “women knew their place, all would be well in the world,” muses James late in a narrative that has made many similar reflections. The book feels naïve, with odd stock-photo illustrations, unnecessary footnotes (for Jägermeister liqueur, for example), unlikely dialogue, and sentences that land with a thud (“Feeling used and discarded was an upsetting emotion”).

An uneven espionage tale.

Pub Date: May 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5467-9598-8

Page Count: 126

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2017

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.


Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A killer thriller.


Black takes time out from chronicling the neighborhood-themed exploits of half-French detective Aimée Leduc to introduce a heroine as American as apple pie.

Kate Rees never expected to see Paris again, especially not under these circumstances. Born and bred in rural Oregon, she earned a scholarship to the Sorbonne, where she met Dafydd, a handsome Welshman who stole her heart. The start of World War II finds the couple stationed in the Orkney Islands, where Kate impresses Alfred Stepney of the War Department with the rifle skills she developed helping her dad and five brothers protect the family’s cattle. After unimaginable tragedy strikes, Stepney recruits Kate for a mission that will allow her to channel her newly ignited rage against the Germans who’ve just invaded France. She’s parachuted into the countryside, where her fluent French should help her blend in. Landing in a field, she hops a milk train to Paris, where she plans to shoot Adolf Hitler as he stands on the steps of Sacre-Coeur. Instead, she kills his admiral and has to flee through the streets of Paris, struggling to hook up with the rescuers who are supposed to extract her. Meanwhile, Gunter Hoffman, a career policeman in a wartime assignment with the Reichssicherheitsdienst security forces, is charged with finding the assassin who dared attempt to kill the Führer. It’s hard to see how it can end well for both the cop and the cowgirl. The heroine’s flight is too episodic to capitalize on Black’s skill at character development, but she’s great at raising readers’ blood pressure.

A killer thriller.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020


Page Count: 360

Publisher: Soho Crime

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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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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