Better-than-average writing can’t overcome a tired plot.

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A GENTLEMAN’S GAME

Thriller about sending a woman to do a man’s job, only to find she’s better at it than most men.

Having made his name with the Atticus Kodiak series (Shooting at Midnight, 1999, etc.), Rucka has been trying his hand in the comics genre, with the ongoing espionage series Queen and Country. Since he’s primarily a novelist, though, it made sense that eventually the star of that series, Tara Chace, would get a starring role in her own novel. The result is a solid piece of work that doesn’t immediately betray its box-and-word-balloon origins but never quite rises to the challenge of the novel form. Chace is a “Minder” with the Special Ops division of the British Secret Intelligence Service and is as handy with a garrote or sniper rifle as she is adroit at picking up and discarding one-night stands. The crisis that puts her into action here is a wide, deadly, and expertly timed assault on London’s Underground. Intel quickly points to a certain Dr. Faud bin Abdullah al Shimmari, a notorious Islamic extremist, and word comes down from the lofty perches of the realm that Faud is to be taken out. Although his opening exposition is rather clumsy, Rucka’s prose starts to hum as he makes it clear that even in a full-blooded actioner like this one, agents can’t just go winging off on missions, but that there are other considerations, and things have consequences. A complex negotiation fires up between SIS, CIA, and Mossad, all wanting a piece of Faud, and a negotiated mission is put together that sends Chace to Yemen. Complications ensue (of course), collateral damage occurs, punishment is demanded. Although A Gentleman’s Game has flashes of insight and makes a valiant stab at creating a truly independent and libidinous heroine in Chace (“This was her pleasure, more than booze or sex or smokes . . . when she knew the stakes and felt the adrenaline”), too much of the story is familiar territory.

Better-than-average writing can’t overcome a tired plot.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2004

ISBN: 0-553-80276-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2004

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Now that Coben’s added politics to his heady brew, expect sex and religion to join the mix.

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THE BOY FROM THE WOODS

Coben’s latest darkest-suburbs thriller sets a decidedly offbeat detective on the trail of a crime with overtones unmistakably redolent of once and future presidential elections.

Wilde is called Wilde because nobody’s known his real name from the moment a pair of hikers found him foraging for himself in Ramapo Mountain State Forest 24 years ago. Now over 40, he’s had experience as both a lost boy and a private investigator. That makes him an obvious person to help when his godson, Sweet Water High School student Matthew Crimstein, expresses concern to his grandmother, attorney Hester Crimstein, that his bullied classmate Naomi Pine has gone missing. Matthew doesn’t really want anyone to help. He doesn’t even want anyone to notice his agitation. But Hester, taking the time from her criminal defense of financial consultant Simon Greene (Run Away, 2019) to worm the details out of him, asks Wilde to lend a hand, and sure enough, Wilde, unearthing an unsavory backstory that links Naomi to bullying classmate Crash Maynard, whose TV producer father, Dash Maynard, is close friends with reality TV star–turned–presidential hopeful Rusty Eggers, finds Naomi hale and hearty. Everything’s hunky-dory for one week, and then she disappears again. And this time, so does Crash after a brief visit to Matthew in which he tearfully confesses his guilt about the bad stuff he did to Naomi. This second disappearance veers into more obviously criminal territory with the arrival of a ransom note that demands, not money, but the allegedly incriminating videotapes of Rusty Eggers that Dash and Delia Maynard have had squirreled away for 30 years. The tapes link Rusty to a forgotten and forgettable homicide and add a paranoid new ripped-from-the-headlines dimension to the author’s formidable range. Readers who can tune out all the subplots will find the kidnappers easy to spot, but Coben finds room for three climactic surprises, one of them a honey.

Now that Coben’s added politics to his heady brew, expect sex and religion to join the mix.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4814-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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