A bracing terrorism tale with a pace that neither falters nor meanders thanks to direct and zealous characters.

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THE LAST ASSASSINATION

Former Mossad agents reunite to track down the culprits responsible for bombing a Syrian hospital in this political thriller.

Lt. Jesse Plotnick is the drone pilot for a U.S. operation, with the target somewhere in Aleppo. Helming the controls in Nevada, Jesse witnesses his screen inexplicably go black. Lt. Col. Bill Johnson quickly aborts the mission and orders the drone destroyed. But it’s too late: The drone fires a Hellfire missile at an Aleppo hospital. Eyewitness accounts and salvaged pieces of the drone point the blame at the U.S. for the resultant deaths, which is all part of someone’s plan to discredit America. Jesse, meanwhile, is the Pentagon’s scapegoat. Fortunately, he has help from his Washington, D.C., lawyer father, Mark, a former Mossad agent with Israeli and U.S. dual citizenship. One of Mark’s clients is Coryell Electronics, the drone manufacturer, which sets out to prove that a hacker may have been behind its product’s alleged malfunction. Mark teams up with Saul Shalach, a colleague from his Mossad days, to clear Jesse’s name by finding the hospital bomber. Enigmatic assassin Janbiya may want the same thing. After his recent mission (killing a terrorist linked to the bombing), his goal of quitting his lethal job is foiled by some loved ones’ deaths via a deliberate explosion. Janbiya believes whoever hired him had plotted his demise but missed, giving him the same target as Mark. Getting answers will require violence, intimidation, and a bit of political savvy, which Mark’s Pentagon cohort Secretary of Defense Amanda Courtright has in spades. Doucette’s (Stealing Fire, 2016, etc.) novel is populated by characters with intricate backstories. Janbiya’s identity, for example, is ultimately revealed; he has ties to two brothers who, after the devastating loss of their parents, seek vengeance against Iraqi military officials and politicians. There’s a connection between the assassin and Mark as well. Despite the dense histories, the tale establishes a brisk momentum with relatively brief details and succinct chapters. Shorter descriptions, however, don’t shortchange the narrative. It’s abundantly clear, for one, that Shorty Coryell is exasperated by Mark’s not immediately comprehending drone frequencies when the author offers this concise line: “Shorty exhaled and looked at Mark.” But female characters are less significant than the males; the wives of both Mark and Janbiya are mostly representative of the men’s choice to leave potential dangers behind and be with family. Amanda is an outstanding exception. She practically takes over the lead in the final act, as pinpointing the villains involves political zigzagging with other countries, including Russia and China. It’s perhaps not surprising that physical confrontations are an eventual necessity, but the tale is never remotely bloody or explicit. At the crux of the book are the weapons and those wielding them. The assassin for hire and Jesse are essentially those weapons, at the mercy of the people trying to control them. This seemingly endless struggle—Mark, Amanda, and others contending with bad guys draped in anonymity—makes for an entertaining story bubbling with exhilaration and intensity.

A bracing terrorism tale with a pace that neither falters nor meanders thanks to direct and zealous characters.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-977743-94-7

Page Count: 238

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2018

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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