Lira (Counterparts, 1998) is an edgy, energetic storyteller, and his spin on a well-worn genre has it frisking about almost...


It’s not George Smiley’s kind of spycraft, but it’s complex enough and no less deadly.

Swaggering body language, hip and swingy language—color them infinitely gaudier than the usual Smiley-gray: in fact, think of the Mod Squad folded into the CIA, and perhaps a picture will start to emerge. Five youngsters—in their 20s—have been organized into a counterintelligence work group called ACROBAT for a mission that’s difficult, dangerous—and compromised almost before it gets underway. We first meet them the day after disaster is established as a condition of their lives, the day after they find themselves shunted out into the cold in a manner so brutally unexpected as to be downright Kafka-like. After a series of brilliant successes, ACROBAT has suddenly, inexplicably become anathema, the object of an all-out hunt masterminded by the redoubtable Nicholas Denton. Among the most powerful of CIA bureaucrats, Denton, as elegant as he is unprincipled, is intent on the fall of ACROBAT’s high-fliers. Why? What could have gone wrong? As in all good spy stories, the reasons are murky, calculatedly inaccessible. Has ACROBAT learned things about Denton that threaten the bubble reputation? Does Denton know things about ACROBAT—and its éminence grise Tom Carr—that discredit its very reason for being? Whichever the case, it’s clear that Denton and Carr share an aversion transcending the facts of the matter. As the ACROBAT kids twist and turn to elude the relentless Denton, they reveal themselves as a much more disparate group than they seemed at the outset, though what they have in common are courage, resourcefulness, and feelings of intense loyalty to each other. It’s their differences, however, that make them so interesting. And their fates so poignant.

Lira (Counterparts, 1998) is an edgy, energetic storyteller, and his spin on a well-worn genre has it frisking about almost as if newly minted.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-28694-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2002

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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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Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless...


Two defrocked Secret Service Agents investigate the assassination of one presidential candidate and the kidnapping of another.

Baldacci (The Christmas Train, 2002, etc.) sets out with two plot strands. The first begins when something distracts Secret Service Agent Sean King and during that “split second,” presidential candidate Clyde Ritter is shot dead. King takes out the killer, but that’s not enough to save his reputation with the Secret Service. He retires and goes on to do often tedious but nonetheless always lucrative work (much like a legal thriller such as this) at a law practice. Plot two begins eight years later when another Secret Service Agent, Michelle Maxwell, lets presidential candidate John Bruno out of her sight for a few minutes at a wake for one of his close associates. He goes missing. Now Maxwell, too, gets in dutch with the SS. Though separated by time, the cases are similar and leave several questions unanswered. What distracted King at the rally? Bruno had claimed his friend’s widow called him to the funeral home. The widow (one of the few characters here to have any life) says she never called Bruno. Who set him up? Who did a chambermaid at Ritter’s hotel blackmail? And who is the man in the Buick shadowing King’s and Maxwell’s every move? King is a handsome, rich divorce, Maxwell an attractive marathon runner. Will they join forces and find each other kind of, well, appealing? But of course. The two former agents traverse the countryside, spinning endless hypotheses before the onset, at last, of a jerrybuilt conclusion that begs credibility and offers few surprises.

Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless concoction.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2003

ISBN: 0-446-53089-1

Page Count: 406

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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