A light, pleasant-enough read, but the story fails to develop any real momentum, and there is little suspense in this tale...

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COME AND FIND ME

Book critic Ephron writes about cyber security and the ultimate betrayal in her second novel (Never Tell a Lie, 2009).

Diana Banks interacts with society in an online world peopled by virtual friends and acquaintances. Even in her job as a cyber-security consultant, Diana attends business meetings held in virtual conference rooms in the persona of her avatar, a woman she calls Nadia. Her preference for the virtual world grew out of the panic attacks Diana began experiencing after her husband, an idealistic hacker named Daniel, fell to his death. The accident took place when the couple was mountain climbing in Switzerland with Daniel’s best friend, Jake. After Daniel, who was obsessed with disrupting what he saw as over-intrusive government, died on Eiger, Jake and Diana invested the life-insurance payout into a legitimate business. Now, instead of hacking into companies’ databases, they detect intrusions and guide companies through security fixes. One of the few people Diana still sees from the real world is her younger sister Ashley. While visiting with Diana, Ashley decides to accept an invitation to a flash event in the city and go in Diana’s place. Ashley then disappears, setting Diana on a frantic search to find her, aided by an online buddy she’s never before met in person, as well as her own intricate knowledge of the way virtual worlds operate. While Diana confronts her fears of the outside world through the haze of grief that remains following her husband’s death, she also realizes that whatever happened to her sister wasn’t really about Ashley, but about her. Eventually, Diana must find a way to conquer her twin demons of panic and anxiety and pull the plug on a conspiracy that could have far-reaching consequences. Ephron dresses up a paper-thin plot with lots of cyber jargon and an impressive understanding of how hackers work, but the characters remain flat and unengaging.

A light, pleasant-enough read, but the story fails to develop any real momentum, and there is little suspense in this tale of a woman who barricades herself from real life.

Pub Date: March 22, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-185752-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2011

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Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

CROOKED RIVER

FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast finds evil afoot in his latest action-filled adventure (Verses for the Dead, 2018, etc.).

Imagine Florida beachcombers’ shock when they discover a shoe with a severed foot inside. Soon they see dozens more feet, all in identical shoes, bobbing toward the beach. Police and FBI ultimately count more than a hundred of them washing up on Sanibel and Captiva Islands' tranquil shores. Pendergast teams up with the junior Special Agent Armstrong Coldmoon to investigate this strange phenomenon. Oceanographers use a supercomputer to analyze Gulf currents and attempt to determine where the feet entered the ocean. Were they dumped off a ship or an island? Does each one represent a homicide? Analysts examine chemical residues and pollen, even the angle of each foot’s amputation, but the puzzle defies all explanation. Attention focuses on Cuba, where “something terrible was happening” in front of a coastal prison, and on China, the apparent source of the shoes. The clever plot is “a most baffling case indeed” for the brilliant Pendergast, but it’s the type of problem he thrives on. He’s hardly a stereotypical FBI agent, given for example his lemon-colored silk suit, his Panama hat, and his legendary insistence on working alone—until now. Pendergast rarely blinks—perhaps, someone surmises, he’s part reptile. But equally odd is Constance Greene, his “extraordinarily beautiful,” smart, and sarcastic young “ward” who has “eyes that had seen everything and, as a result, were surprised by nothing.” Coldmoon is more down to earth: part Lakota, part Italian, and “every inch a Fed.” Add in murderous drug dealers, an intrepid newspaper reporter, coyotes crossing the U.S.–Mexico border, and a pissed-off wannabe graphic novelist, and you have a thoroughly entertaining cast of characters. There is plenty of suspense, and the action gets bloody.

Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4725-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

ONE GOOD DEED

Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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