An entertaining mystery with a vibrant setting.

ZONA ROMANTICA

A diplomat barely has time to unpack in a beautiful Mexican city when she finds herself involved in what looks like a high-profile kidnapping in this novel.

Amanda Pennyworth has arrived in Puerto Vallarta to take charge of the American Consular Service, her fourth posting. She is already becoming disenchanted with her career, but Puerto Vallarta should be a safe and pleasant place to spend a few years. There is a large American expatriate community with a literary bent, an attraction because Amanda has been working desultorily on a novel over the years. The star of that community is Joshua Talbot, whose first novel, many years ago, rocked the literary establishment on its heels, but—old story—he has not produced much since. That debut novel was a lodestar in Amanda’s childhood, and now Talbot has shown an interest in her, befriended her. Then, when he is supposed to meet her for dinner, he doesn’t show up. Hours turn into days, and the fear grows that he is hurt somewhere in the mountains backing the town or, worse, has been kidnapped. Sure enough, ransom notes show up on Amanda’s doorstep. Her best ally is Romero Morelos of the Tourist Police, a very solid guy (and single and sort of hunky). Will Amanda and Romero be able to save Talbot? Gilbert is an experienced and capable writer, and Amanda is a well-drawn and intriguing character. Readers will get a keen sense of the daily (and nightly) life in the Zona Romantica (a real area in Puerto Vallarta) and of the undercurrents of Mexican politics, especially the uneasy and unequal relationship between the local police and the arrogant federales. While not in Hammett’s or Chandler’s league, this enjoyable tale delivers the requisite red herrings while following the trail of the crime. But in the end, one of those herrings turns out not to be red at all. Who knew? Well, some readers will probably figure that out and even guess a key angle. The final plot twist has in fact appeared more than once in real life.

An entertaining mystery with a vibrant setting.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68114-521-1

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Anaphora Literary Press

Review Posted Online: April 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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More bedmates for the hero, two of them new, and a higher body count than usual, but otherwise the same mixture as before.

SHAKEUP

President Holly Barker’s inauguration may be complicated by murder, but it’s all in a day’s work for her lover, attorney Stone Barrington.

Returning to the suite they’ve booked at the Hay-Adams Hotel, Stone and his friends Dino and Viv Bacchetti trip over the body of Patricia Clark. By the time the strangling hits the newspapers, Holly has already scratched the appointment of Patricia's soon-to-be ex-husband, billionaire businessman Donald Clark, as Secretary of Commerce, and D.C. police chief Deborah Myers, Clark’s rumored lover, is about to reject Lt. Art Jacoby’s nomination of Clark as the killer and go after Jacoby in that role instead. This plot, as so often in Stone’s adventures, goes nowhere. But at least Stone’s dalliance with aspiring movie actress Lara Parks leads to some satisfying sex, though Lara has to decamp to make room for Holly when she’s able to sneak off to LA to resume her long-running affair with Stone. The execution of the bodyguard Dino has assigned to Jacoby—Dino's the New York City police commissioner—turns up the heat on Clark and Myers until one of them is murdered too. Eddie Craft, a fortuitous witness who saw the perpetrator of this last crime, hightails it to England, where he’s immediately sucked into a scheme to steal paintings by Stone’s late mother from Stone’s estate in Hampshire. So everything in this daisy chain is more or less connected, though not in any way you might have expected.

More bedmates for the hero, two of them new, and a higher body count than usual, but otherwise the same mixture as before.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-18832-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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More of a curiosity for political junkies than a satisfying story of international intrigue.

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WHILE JUSTICE SLEEPS

A progressive superstar pens her first political thriller.

Anyone who follows the news knows Abrams as a politician and voting rights activist. She's less well known as a novelist. Using the pseudonym Selena Montgomery, Abrams has published several works of romantic suspense. Her new novel begins when Supreme Court Justice Howard Wynn falls into a coma. His clerk Avery Keene is shocked to discover that her boss has made her his legal guardian and granted her power of attorney. The fate of one of the most powerful men in the world is in her hands—and her life is in danger. Abrams gives us nefarious doings in the world of biotech, a president with autocratic tendencies and questionable ethics, and a young woman struggling to unravel a conspiracy while staying one step ahead of the people who want her out of the way. Unfortunately, the author doesn't weave these intriguing elements into an enjoyable whole. Abrams makes some odd word choices, such as this: “The intricate knot she had twisted into her hair that morning bobbed cunningly as she neared her office.” The adverb cunningly is mystifying, and Abrams uses it in a similar way later on. There are disorienting shifts in point of view. And Abrams lavishes a great deal of attention on details that simply don’t matter, which makes the pace painfully slow. This is a fatal flaw in a suspense novel, but it may not be the most frustrating aspect of this book. For a protagonist who has gotten where she is by being smart, Avery makes some stunningly poor decisions. For example, the fact that she has a photographic memory is an important plot point and is clearly a factor in Justice Wynn’s decision to enlist her help. When she finds a piece of paper upon which is printed a long string of characters and the words "BURN UPON REVIEW," Avery memorizes the lines of numbers and letters—and then, even though she knows she’s being surveilled, she snaps a shot of the paper with her phone, thereby making the whole business of setting it on fire quite pointless.

More of a curiosity for political junkies than a satisfying story of international intrigue.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-385-54657-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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