A bold concept, poorly executed by this veteran thriller writer (Blown, 2005, etc.).

JACK 1939

FDR recruits a young Jack Kennedy to do some sleuthing in Europe on the eve of World War II. 

It’s early 1939. Jack is 21, overshadowed by older brother Joe and racked by an undiagnosed disease, but Roosevelt sees past all that because he intuits that Jack is a nonconformist and risk-taker. The president has decided to run for a third term. What concerns him is a German network steering money to Democratic clubhouses in hopes of electing an isolationist. Jack must find out how it operates; as son of the ambassador to London, he will have all the access he needs. The premise is different enough from Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America to be workable, and Mathews has carefully researched the period, but her portrait of Jack comes up short. She captures the charming ladies’ man, the romantic hero indifferent to death, but there’s little sign of his questing intelligence; Jack’s initial reason for traveling is to research his Harvard senior thesis (eventually his first book, Why England Slept). His fellow travelers on the trans-Atlantic crossing include Diana Playfair, an English femme fatale and Fascist sympathizer, and the White Spider, a psychopathic killer working for Gestapo chief Heydrich. We’ve already seen the Spider knife to death his first two victims, a sign that melodramatic cheap thrills will trump geopolitical intrigue. Jack will fall big time for Diana as they crisscross Europe. They will make furious love, but can she be trusted, especially after Heydrich snaps her up? Jack sends Morse code messages to FDR. He’ll be in plenty of tight spots, though there’s usually backup, and he gets to use his Luger. What hurts Jack most is his discovery that his dad is one of the network’s secret donors; their confrontation gets physical.

A bold concept, poorly executed by this veteran thriller writer (Blown, 2005, etc.).

Pub Date: July 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59448-719-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once...

DELIVER US FROM EVIL

In Baldacci’s 19th (True Blue, 2009, etc.), boy and girl monster-hunters meet cute.

Evan Waller, aka Fadir Kuchin, aka “the Butcher of Kiev,” aka “the Ukrainian psychopath,” is one of those deep-dyed villains a certain kind of fiction can’t do without. Serving with distinction as part of the Soviet Union’s KGB, he joyfully and indiscriminately killed thousands. Now, many years later, posing as a successful businessman, he’s vacationing in Provence where, unbeknownst to him, two separate clandestine operations are being mounted by people who do not regard him with favor. Reggie Campion—28 and gorgeous—spearheads the first, an ad hoc group of monster-hunting vigilantes. Studly, tall Shaw (no first name supplied) is point guard for a rival team, shadowy enough to leave the matter of its origin ambiguous. While their respective teams reconnoiter and jockey for position, studly boy meets gorgeous girl. Monster-hunters are famous for having trust issues, but clearly these are drawn to each other in the time-honored Hollywood fashion. Shaw saves Reggie’s life. She returns the favor. The attraction deepens and heats up to the point where team-members on both sides grow unsettled by the loss of focus, singularly inopportune since, as monsters go, Waller rises to the second coming of Caligula—ample testimony furnished by a six-page, unsparingly detailed torture scene. In the end, the stalkers strike, bullets fly, screams curdle the blood, love has its innings and a monster does what a monster’s got to do.

The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once again show the stuff it’s made of.

Pub Date: April 20, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-446-56408-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Avon A/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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