A thoughtful novel that owes a debt to Star Trek but works on its own terms.



From the Dragon Spawn Chronicles series , Vol. 1

In the first installment Ross’ Dragon Spawn Chronicles, starship crew members risk starting an interstellar war after rescuing two precocious and dangerous boys from a dreaded warrior race.

It’s 3790, and spacegoing humanity hasn’t yet discovered any intelligent alien life—at least at the beginning of the new SF novel by the author of The Third Dragon (2012). But colonists from a long-destroyed Earth have evolved diverse cultures and physical appearances. A federation known as the Prontaean Cooperative seeks to unite the universe in peace, and one of its vessels, the Odyssey, is a fresh post for J.D. Hapker, as second in command to Capt. Silas Arden. Hapker, trying to put behind him a disgrace in earlier service, is again thrust into impossible dilemmas and hard ethical choices when the Odyssey rescues two wounded survivors from a small ship under seemingly unmotivated attack. The new arrivals turn out to be a pair of hunted young brothers from the tyrannical Tredon warrior race, hated and feared by many civilizations represented among the Odyssey’s polyglot crew. Hapker nonetheless tries to establish friendly rapport with the younger of them, Jori, merely 10 years old but already a formidable killer, coldly defiant of his reluctant protectors. While he wants to protect the ferocious child, Hapker senses that Joni harbors secrets that could start an interstellar war. Can any good result? In a novel that comes close to a high order of Star Trek fan fiction, a few USS Enterprise analogs (though no Spock) are present, but the Tredon have values closer to those Imperial Japanese samurai than Klingons. And it takes quite a few repetitious episodes before the narrative really kicks into warp drive. But well-drawn characters, thoroughly explored emotions, and a long-shot mission outcome are ingredients that any admirer of humanist SF can judge shipshape. Despite the violence and scattered profanities, the material works as well on a YA level as a grown-up one. 

A thoughtful novel that owes a debt to Star Trek but works on its own terms.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2020


Page Count: 295

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Feb. 11, 2020

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.


Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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Great storytelling about the pursuit of extrajudicial justice.


Ninth in the author’s Gray Man series (Mission Critical, 2019, etc.) in which “the most elite assassin in the world” has his hands full.

Ex–CIA Agent Courtland Gentry (the Gray Man) has Serbian war criminal Ratko Babic in his gun sight, but when he decides instead to kill the old beast face to face, he uncovers a massive sex-slavery ring. “I don’t get off on this,” the Gray Man lies to the reader as he stabs a sentry. “I only kill bad people.” Of course he does. If there weren’t an endless supply of them to slay, he’d have little reason to live. Now, countless young Eastern European women are being lured into sexual slavery and fed into an international pipeline, sold worldwide through “the Consortium.” Bad guys refer to their captives as products, not people. They are “merchandise,” but their plight haunts the Gray Man, so of course he is going to rescue as many women as he can. The road to their salvation will be paved with the dead as he enlists a team of fighters to strike the enemy, which includes a South African dude who is giddy for the chance to meet and kill the Gray Man. Meanwhile, Europol analyst Talyssa Corbu meets the hero while on a personal mission to rescue her sister. “You don’t seem like a psychopath,” she tells him. Indeed, though he could play one on TV. Corbu and her sister are tough and likable characters while the director of the Consortium leads a double life as family man and flesh merchant. Human trafficking is an enormous real-life problem, so it’s satisfying to witness our larger-than-life protagonist put his combat skills to good use. There will be a sequel, of course. As a friend tells the wounded Gentry at the end, he’ll be off killing bozos again before he knows it.

Great storytelling about the pursuit of extrajudicial justice.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09891-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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