A would-be mystery boasting a smaller-than-life Sinatra.

In 1962, Congressman Charlie Marder is sent to Hollywood to spy on Frank Sinatra and find out what special favor mobster Sam Giancana, a buddy of the singer's, wants from him.

Charlie, a moderate New York Republican, is forced into taking on the assignment. Under the authority of Attorney General Robert Kennedy (who makes a brief appearance), the feds have imprisoned Charlie's ailing father, power broker Winston Marder, on charges of consorting with criminals. They won't release him until Charlie gets the goods on Giancana. The congressman has fun out West posing as a consultant to The Manchurian Candidate, less fun when he and his sleuthing wife, Margaret, find a dead body in the trunk of their rented car. What's this secret worth killing for? Successful mysteries have been built on weaker premises, but Tapper does little in the way of plot construction. Stuffed with gossipy tidbits that have long withered on the vine and useless trivia (do we really need Janet Leigh explaining the technical achievement of Psycho?), this sequel to The Hellfire Club (2018) never gains steam. Sinatra is a cardboard figure who rants a lot, especially after his pal John F. Kennedy reneges on plans to stay with him during a presidential visit to California. Margaret, a zoologist who entertains herself categorizing the Rat Packers (Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford are "omega wolves"), awakens slowly to their alpha leader's true character: "Sinatra was so mercurial and abusive, she no longer thought his ego was that of the mere superstar." Charlie keeps talking himself into seeing the singer in a more positive vein: "Being a sociopath didn't necessarily mean an absence of charisma," he muses, appreciating Sinatra's "great acts of decency and humanity." The best exchange in the book, uttered at a murder scene, seems unintentionally funny: "Where's the phone?" "It's around her neck."

A would-be mystery boasting a smaller-than-life Sinatra.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-53023-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021


Loyal King stans may disagree, but this is a snooze.

A much-beloved author gives a favorite recurring character her own novel.

Holly Gibney made her first appearance in print with a small role in Mr. Mercedes (2014). She played a larger role in The Outsider (2018). And she was the central character in If It Bleeds, a novella in the 2020 collection of the same name. King has said that the character “stole his heart.” Readers adore her, too. One way to look at this book is as several hundred pages of fan service. King offers a lot of callbacks to these earlier works that are undoubtedly a treat for his most loyal devotees. That these easter eggs are meaningless and even befuddling to new readers might make sense in terms of costs and benefits. King isn’t exactly an author desperate to grow his audience; pleasing the people who keep him at the top of the bestseller lists is probably a smart strategy, and this writer achieved the kind of status that whatever he writes is going to be published. Having said all that, it’s possible that even his hardcore fans might find this story a bit slow. There are also issues in terms of style. Much of the language King uses and the cultural references he drops feel a bit creaky. The word slacks occurs with distracting frequency. King uses the phrase keeping it on the down-low in a way that suggests he probably doesn’t understand how this phrase is currently used—and has been used for quite a while. But the biggest problem is that this narrative is framed as a mystery without delivering the pleasures of a mystery. The reader knows who the bad guys are from the start. This can be an effective storytelling device, but in this case, waiting for the private investigator heroine to get to where the reader is at the beginning of the story feels interminable.

Loyal King stans may disagree, but this is a snooze.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2023

ISBN: 9781668016138

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2023


Lots of violent action with little payoff.

Jack Ryan Jr. is back to risk life and limb in saving a teenage girl from international killers while his father, U.S. President Jack Ryan Sr., figures out what to do with Iran’s clandestine uranium enrichment facility, hidden in a mine.

Junior, head of the secret intelligence outfit The Campus, which was functionally wiped out in Tom Clancy Flash Point (2023), is heading across Texas to a rendezvous with his fiancee, Lisanne Robertson, a one-armed former Marine and cop. He’s waylaid by the aftermath of a multi-vehicle accident that he discovers resulted from a gun attack that left a driver hanging on for life, and now puts Jack in the crosshairs of the gunmen. A tip leads him to a 4 a.m. meeting with Amanda, a single mom whose impetuous daughter, Bella, has run off with her highly undesirable boyfriend only to be abducted by the baddies. the nation’s capital, American surveillance has determined that Iran is on the cusp of nuclear armament. The only way to stop them is unleashing an unpiloted and untested super plane with massive destructive power. The book’s treatment of Iran’s “existential threat to the entire globe” as a subplot is rather curious, to say the least. You keep waiting for Bentley to connect the two stories, but that happens only superficially. Late in the book, we are told as an afterthought that Iran’s immediate threat had been “mitigated.” Unfortunately, there is no mitigation of the novel’s hackneyed prose—"The analytical portion of Jack’s brain couldn’t help but be impressed.”

Lots of violent action with little payoff.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2023

ISBN: 9780593422816

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2023

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