DEFEATING OPERATION HYDRA

A rising star in the New York District Attorney’s office suffers her first loss, the high profile prosecution of a defendant accused of a grisly homicide, and spirals into an emotional meltdown that ultimately ensnares her in a dangerous web of drugs, violence and terrorism.

Smith, a trial attorney in Atlanta, Ga., makes good use of his professional experience in this debut novel. The early scenes are packed with engaging cat-and-mouse courtroom drama. A devastating cross-examination of the defendant appears to leave little doubt that prosecutor Sharon Weinstock will win another conviction—that is, until a hung jury results in a mistrial. Weinstock is a compelling character—a young attorney who is tightly wound and keeps her life exceedingly well organized. When she unravels, it is in spectacular form, beginning with an uncharacteristic flight to Aruba and a night of drunken abandon. After an improbable tryst with the very defendant she had been trying to convict, Weinstock finds herself involved with a series of psychopathic charmers who test the limits of her courage and previously untapped skills in a deadly contest set against the backdrop of the second Gulf War. The writing is occasionally uneven (and grammarians may cringe at the haphazard switching of tenses throughout the novel), but Smith keeps the tension steady, providing surprising alliances and backstabbers. A satisfying love interest offers moments of respite from the violence that emerges behind every corner. The nature of “Operation Hydra” itself does not emerge until the final chapters. Were it not for the title and the dust jacket details, readers might not immediately suspect the scope of the larger conspiracy. The major premise of the book becomes less important than the adventure itself. And readers who grow to enjoy Weinstock’s sharp mind and indefatigable determination will be pleased that Smith has set the stage for the possible reappearance of his heroine in a sequel. An entertaining page-turner for devotees of international thrillers.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1462898800

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2012

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

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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