A taut, exhilarating mystery with plenty of material for a sequel.

THIRTEEN ACROSS

U.S. authorities try to solve the puzzle that a vengeance-seeking terrorist leaves behind in Washington, D.C., in this thriller.

FBI Special Agent and physician Kate Morgan is riding a commuter train to a congressional hearing. But she’s lucky to be alive after an explosive obliterates the tracks and derails the train. Readers know immediately that a man named Phillip Barnes is responsible for the attack, but his motives aren’t entirely clear. He definitely has a vendetta against Kate, whom he blames for killing his family. Inside a briefcase marked with Kate’s name, Barnes leaves a partial crossword puzzle and corresponding clues. Feds hope that deciphering the puzzle will lead them to the site of the next attack before it happens. Meanwhile, the Pentagon sends U.S. Army Capt. Rachel Pratt to assist the FBI’s investigation, though her secret directives include locating and eliminating the threat. But once she identifies the culprit as Barnes, with whom she has a personal history, Pratt ignores orders to return to her post and continues hunting the terrorist. As more pieces of the crossword arrive, feds bring in puzzle-solving guru (and civilian) Will Shortz for assistance. Kate begins to suspect that the strike in Washington relates to a covert program involving experiments on American soldiers. She’s likewise certain that Pratt, though helpful, is withholding information from her. Nevertheless, neither woman is safe, as Barnes’ plan, after he toys with the unwitting participants in his game, is sure to have a lethal ending. Grant (The Singularity Witness, 2018) fills this narrative with superlative female characters. Kate, for one, who appeared in the author’s preceding novel, is as smart as she is capable. She decrypts many of Barnes’ clues on her own and survives more than one explosion through sheer determination. There’s also equally intelligent Strategic Information & Operations Center unit chief Alice Watson, and resourceful, enigmatic Pratt. A surprising standout character among the men is Shortz, a fictionalized version of the real-life puzzle master. Though he’s unaccustomed to someone pointing a gun at him, he keeps his cool when it inevitably occurs. Grant retains a steady pace and suspense as even the reverberations of bombings elicit lasting images: “A heavy sky had turned orange, almost bloodlike in spots. Fire licked at building openings, places where doors and windows had been.” What exactly is unfolding, especially specifics on the revenge Barnes seeks, is a mystery for much of the story. But it’s the characters that truly generate the narrative tension. For example, Kate is understandably wary of Pratt, who’s sometimes deceitful and typically evasive. This ultimately leads to a gleefully convoluted face-off with Kate and several other characters that sizzles with revelations, double crossings, and seemingly shifting alliances. Some things are left unresolved by the end, like a mystery possibly involving neuroscientist Thomas Parker, who despite starring alongside Kate in the earlier book doesn’t show up here. But Grant thoroughly and convincingly wrap ups this story’s main plot.

A taut, exhilarating mystery with plenty of material for a sequel.

Pub Date: May 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73250-405-9

Page Count: 512

Publisher: MindScape Press, Inc.

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2019

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

FIREFLY LANE

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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