A suspenseful and entertaining disaster novel.

MELTDOWN

James tells the story of a nuclear power plant employee racing to save New York City from destruction in this thriller.

Trace Crane, a control-room supervisor at the Bear Mountain Nuclear Energy Center in the Hudson Valley, is about to meet his wife and daughter for a much-needed long weekend at a friend’s beach house in Greenwich, Connecticut, when the entire center begins to move: “the shaking hit like a mortar detonation, like Godzilla had grabbed the building and was trying to rattle all its contents out.” It’s an earthquake that causes a stationwide blackout; coolant isn’t getting to the reactors, which means that a full nuclear meltdown is imminent. Trace’s thoughts go immediately to his wife, Avi, and young daughter, Brooklyn, who get separated in the chaos when the 6.4 earthquake hits their town of Peekskill, New York. It falls to Trace to stabilize the reactors and find his family—if he can calm his nerves and focus. As the situation deteriorates, however, doing the right things becomes increasingly difficult: He may be able to save New York from annihilation—but if he does so, he may never see his family again. James writes in a taut, propulsive prose style that wrings a surprising amount of tension and dynamism out of the situation, particularly considering the book’s nearly 400-page length. Trace is a delightfully flawed hero—both inside and out, according to the author’s unflattering descriptions: “Stress, anger, and annoyance hung heavy in his jowls, ebullience springing free in unexpected smatterings of rising cheeks. Trace scratched at a patch of chronic psoriasis on his nose—a crust of pinkish-white flaky skin falling onto his paperwork.” James also isn’t afraid to get into the minutiae of just how a nuclear reactor works—and how one would fail—creating a foundation of verisimilitude on which the disaster-movie–style plot turns rest. James doesn’t reinvent the genre, but he does succeed in creating a claustrophobic and anxiety-producing thriller that will keep readers counting down to the final second.

A suspenseful and entertaining disaster novel.

Pub Date: May 15, 2018

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 393

Publisher: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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

SPLIT SECOND

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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