As for the thrills in this ripped-from-the-headlines thriller, if you want to know whether Malko succeeds in assassinating...

CHAOS IN KABUL

How hard could it be to assassinate an inconvenient Afghan head of state? If you haven’t seen any newspapers over the past few years, de Villiers, late (1929-2013) veteran of hundreds of spy thrillers, wants to tell you.

Hamid Karzai has become more trouble than he’s worth. So National Security Advisor John Mulligan and CIA Deputy Director Clayton Luger decide he’s got to go. Since the White House needs complete deniability, they farm the job out to Austrian Prince Malko Linge, a freelance operative who’s already done yeoman service (The Madmen of Benghazi, 2014, etc.), and instruct him to use South African mercenary Nelson Berry as the triggerman. It’s all very hush-hush, except that it isn’t, as Malko quickly learns on his arrival. Just as the CIA has moles like Luftullah Kibzai inside Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, Karzai has moles like former station director Mark Spider inside the CIA, and soon everyone in Kabul seems to know why Malko is there—except for Alicia Burton, the clueless American reporter who seduces Malko after his fiancee, Alexandra, and South African automotive expert Maureen Kieffer have already had their ways with him. Complications naturally arise, and soon Malko is himself on the run from his many enemies and from a few people he considered allies. The aptly titled tale, proficient but synthetic, is punctuated by bouts of sex as graphic as they are routine.

As for the thrills in this ripped-from-the-headlines thriller, if you want to know whether Malko succeeds in assassinating Karzai, or whether de Villiers kills off his long-running series hero, you’ll just have to read the whole story to find out.

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8041-6933-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

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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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This thriller is taut and fast-paced but lacks compelling protagonists.

THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS

Three siblings who have been out of touch for more than 20 years grapple with their unsettling childhoods, but when the youngest inherits the family home, all are drawn back together.

At the age of 25, Libby Jones learns she has inherited a large London house that was held in a trust left to her by her birthparents. When she visits the lawyer, she is shocked to find out that she was put up for adoption when she was 10 months old after her parents died in the house in an apparent suicide pact with an unidentified man and that she has an older brother and sister who were teenagers at the time of their parents' deaths and haven't been seen since. Meanwhile, in alternating narratives, we're introduced to Libby's sister, Lucy Lamb, who's on the verge of homelessness with her two children in the south of France, and her brother, Henry Lamb, who's attempting to recall the last few disturbing years with his parents during which they lost their wealth and were manipulated into letting friends move into their home. These friends included the controlling but charismatic David Thomsen, who moved his own wife and two children into the rooms upstairs. Henry also remembers his painful adolescent confusion as he became wildly infatuated with Phineas, David’s teenage son. Meanwhile, Libby connects with Miller Roe, the journalist who covered the story about her family, and the pair work together to find her brother and sister, determine what happened when she was an infant, and uncover who has recently been staying in the vacant house waiting for Libby to return. As Jewell (Watching You, 2018, etc.) moves back and forth from the past to the present, the narratives move swiftly toward convergence in her signature style, yet with the exception of Lucy’s story, little suspense is built up and the twists can’t quite make up for the lack of deep characters and emotionally weighty moments.

This thriller is taut and fast-paced but lacks compelling protagonists.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-9010-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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