LORD OF THE SWALLOWS

Thriller in which lustful affairs send Soviet and American agents, spies, and counterspies plotting and panting in what nearly becomes a bedroom farce.

It’s hard to believe the CIA would employ the services of Austrian playboy Malko Linge, who so easily and frequently loses his head in fits of passion. But there you have it in the late de Villiers’ latest case (publicity claims more than 200 installments for this French James Bond) involving Linge, who freelances for the agency. As written by de Villiers, Linge’s boudoir exploits are a series of howlers. One moment has a woman grip Linge’s male member “like a drowning man clinging to a life jacket.” Other scenes, falling somewhere between soft- and hard-core pornography, are sexist and offensive. Consider: “the black woman’s plunging neckline displayed three quarters of a bosom that proved that silicone had reached African shores.” It’s no surprise, then, that the plot evolves from an affair. At a Red Cross charity ball in Monte Carlo, Zhanna Khrenkov, a Russian blonde, flirts, to uncertain effect, with Linge while his fiancee fumes nearby. Khrenkov eventually tells Linge what she wants: her husband, Alexei, has been chasing Lynn Marsh, a British dentist, and Khrenkov asks Linge to rub her out. As leverage, Khrenkov says she’ll hand over to Linge the names of a group of Soviet spies (the eponymous “swallows”) lurking in the United States if he’ll “kill the bitch.” It’s a flimsy premise not strengthened by any revelations about what the Soviet spies are up to and how great a threat they may pose. The CIA nevertheless wants the spies identified. Once the game gets going, de Villiers sets the Kremlin, the CIA, Khrenkov and her husband, Linge, and the dentist all to watching each other, second guessing each other’s motives, and calibrating their strategies accordingly. Meanwhile, Lynn links up with Alexei, “the sexual tornado” who “thud[s] at her like a woodcutter.”

Even Bond might blush. 

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8041-6937-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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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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