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PHANTOM ORBIT

A space yarn filled with tension and excitement.

Great powers jockey for dominance in space.

Three unusually smart people play key roles in this cerebral, well-researched thriller. It’s relatively low-key, with none of the blood spatter and 12-letter profanities so common in the genre. In the 1990s, Russian Ivan Volkov studies aerospace engineering at Tsinghua University in Beijing, where he learns from renowned professor Cao Lin and meets American grad student Edith Ryan. Volkov and Ryan (Psst! She’s CIA) become friends but not lovers, and they go their separate ways. Back home in Russia, Volkov, the most interesting of the main characters, is asked if he trusts his “new Chinese friends.” “I am a Russian,” he replies. “I don’t trust anyone.” His money-loving wife leaves him and their young son while he struggles to find a job that pays enough. “Don’t take Dimitry,” he begs her. “I don’t want Dimitry,” she tells him. “He reminds me of you.” Ouch. But he loves his son and raises him well. He also loves Russia, but he doesn’t love its corruption. Three decades later, the specter of war looms in space, with hints of vulnerabilities in the GPS system. The U.S. has dominated space for so long that Cao Lin believes it’s become complacent and can’t see its vulnerabilities. While much of our daily lives depends on GPS’s precision in commercial air and highway travel, it’s critical to Ukraine for pinpointing Russian targets on the battlefield. Thousands of miles up in space, one satellite might be able to reposition itself close to another country’s satellite and reprogram or disable it. This oversimplifies the threat described in detail in the novel, but that’s the drift. China, Russia, and the U.S. fear and mistrust each other, and they can cause huge problems on earth by dominating space with “killer satellites.” Volkov is asked if he can fix Russia’s satellite system, which is too “sloppy” and “imprecise.” “You need better clocks,” he replies, and the author does a good job explaining why. Ryan, Volkov, and Cao are all honorable characters with their own trajectories that reconnect in surprising fashion. Readers just might root for all three.

A space yarn filled with tension and excitement.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9781324050919

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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THE HOUSE ACROSS THE LAKE

A weird, wild ride.

Celebrity scandal and a haunted lake drive the narrative in this bestselling author’s latest serving of subtly ironic suspense.

Sager’s debut, Final Girls (2017), was fun and beautifully crafted. His most recent novels—Home Before Dark (2020) and Survive the Night (2021) —have been fun and a bit rickety. His new novel fits that mold. Narrator Casey Fletcher grew up watching her mother dazzle audiences, and then she became an actor herself. While she never achieves the “America’s sweetheart” status her mother enjoyed, Casey makes a career out of bit parts in movies and on TV and meatier parts onstage. Then the death of her husband sends her into an alcoholic spiral that ends with her getting fired from a Broadway play. When paparazzi document her substance abuse, her mother exiles her to the family retreat in Vermont. Casey has a dry, droll perspective that persists until circumstances overwhelm her, and if you’re getting a Carrie Fisher vibe from Casey Fletcher, that is almost certainly not an accident. Once in Vermont, she passes the time drinking bourbon and watching the former supermodel and the tech mogul who live across the lake through a pair of binoculars. Casey befriends Katherine Royce after rescuing her when she almost drowns and soon concludes that all is not well in Katherine and Tom’s marriage. Then Katherine disappears….It would be unfair to say too much about what happens next, but creepy coincidences start piling up, and eventually, Casey has to face the possibility that maybe some of the eerie legends about Lake Greene might have some truth to them. Sager certainly delivers a lot of twists, and he ventures into what is, for him, new territory. Are there some things that don’t quite add up at the end? Maybe, but asking that question does nothing but spoil a highly entertaining read.

A weird, wild ride.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-18319-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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HOME IS WHERE THE BODIES ARE

Answers are hard to come by in this twisting tale designed to trick and delight.

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Three siblings on very different paths learn that their family home may be haunted by secrets.

Eldest daughter Beth is alone with her fading mother as she takes her final breath and says something about Beth’s long-departed brother and sister, who may not have disappeared forever. Beth is still reeling from the loss of her mother when her estranged siblings show up. Michael, the youngest, hasn’t been home since their father’s disappearance seven years ago. In the meantime, he’s outgrown his siblings, trading his share of the family troubles for a high-paying job in San Jose. Nicole, the middle child, has been overpowered by addiction and prioritized tuning out reality over any sense of responsibility, much to Beth’s disgust. Though their mother’s death marks an ending for the family, it’s also a beginning, as the three siblings realize when they find a disturbing videotape among their parents’ belongings. The video, from 1999, sheds suspicion on their father’s disappearance, linking it to a long-unsolved neighborhood mystery. Was it just a series of unfortunate circumstances that broke the family apart, or does something more sinister underlie the sadness they’ve all found in life? In chapters that rotate among the family’s first-person narratives, the siblings take turns digging up stories and secrets in their search for solace.

Answers are hard to come by in this twisting tale designed to trick and delight.

Pub Date: April 30, 2024

ISBN: 9798212182843

Page Count: 270

Publisher: Blackstone

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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