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.


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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Amateurish, with a twist savvy readers will see coming from a mile away.

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A woman accused of shooting her husband six times in the face refuses to speak.

"Alicia Berenson was thirty-three years old when she killed her husband. They had been married for seven years. They were both artists—Alicia was a painter, and Gabriel was a well-known fashion photographer." Michaelides' debut is narrated in the voice of psychotherapist Theo Faber, who applies for a job at the institution where Alicia is incarcerated because he's fascinated with her case and believes he will be able to get her to talk. The narration of the increasingly unrealistic events that follow is interwoven with excerpts from Alicia's diary. Ah, yes, the old interwoven diary trick. When you read Alicia's diary you'll conclude the woman could well have been a novelist instead of a painter because it contains page after page of detailed dialogue, scenes, and conversations quite unlike those in any journal you've ever seen. " 'What's the matter?' 'I can't talk about it on the phone, I need to see you.' 'It's just—I'm not sure I can make it up to Cambridge at the minute.' 'I'll come to you. This afternoon. Okay?' Something in Paul's voice made me agree without thinking about it. He sounded desperate. 'Okay. Are you sure you can't tell me about it now?' 'I'll see you later.' Paul hung up." Wouldn't all this appear in a diary as "Paul wouldn't tell me what was wrong"? An even more improbable entry is the one that pins the tail on the killer. While much of the book is clumsy, contrived, and silly, it is while reading passages of the diary that one may actually find oneself laughing out loud.

Amateurish, with a twist savvy readers will see coming from a mile away.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-30169-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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