An underdeveloped thriller with a protagonist that could have been fleshed out more.

The China Saboteurs

A veteran homeland-security agent vows justice in the mysterious death of a young auditor investigating the plagued production of a Pentagon fighter jet in this thriller.

Ohio-based cost analyst Ann Redmond, an eager new hire working for the U.S. Department of Defense, is sent to Launch Weapons Systems in California to audit the progress of a $400 billion F-35 Lightning II fighter-jet project. There are concerns that the manufacturer is lagging behind its delivery schedule and will miss an upcoming live weapons test. It seems like a simple assignment, which makes her lurid murder all the more shocking and suspect. Agent Sam Pruett, “in the twilight of his career,” allows himself to become personally involved in the case and is “determined to see it through to its ominous conclusion.” That conclusion, though, will likely be obvious to the reader; the title of the book is a mild spoiler in itself. But by the time Pruett sorts it all out, there are still more than 100 pages to go. Bronsen’s debut is several undeveloped books in one. The focus initially is on the financial dilemma of Jay Forest, a recently fired avionics worker who’s tens of thousands of dollars in debt to a loan shark who figures prominently in the story’s early going, only to unceremoniously disappear mid-book. Then a former colleague, who runs Launch Weapons Systems, hires Jay to get the jet project on track and he’s charged to put a team together. The sections dealing with the fighter jet’s production and the technology behind it are the most credible in the book, and they’ll please tech-heads. Another subplot involves a struggling, family-owned company that resorts to unscrupulous methods to try to wrest the F-35 project from Launch Weapons Systems. The “open-and-shut” murder case, though, doesn’t generate much suspense or reader engagement, and it’s not even clear why Pruett is so invested in this particular case. His antagonistic working relationship with a local police detective (a more impressive sleuth) at first suggests a mismatched-buddy relationship. Fortunately, Bronsen does avoid this cliché, but the dialogue throughout is still trite.

An underdeveloped thriller with a protagonist that could have been fleshed out more.

Pub Date: March 22, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5188-9276-9

Page Count: 340

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2016

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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