A smart but uneven espionage tale.

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BLACK MESA

THE FINAL REPORT: WHO DO YOU TRUST?

A public affairs officer goes undercover to unravel the conspiracy behind a nuclear explosion that leveled Washington, D.C.

Shear (Near Miss, 2016, etc.) further immerses “accidental spy” Jackson Guild into the international intrigue behind the September 2009 attack that killed the U.S. president, most of Congress, and all of the Supreme Court justices, along with almost 60,000 citizens. It is now May 2010. Tricked by a former spy acquaintance, Elvin Krongartten, Guild is dispatched to Los Alamos, New Mexico. Under the pretext of writing a book, he is looking to get the goods on Edder Industries, “the most powerful management and engineering firm in America…a mom ’n’ pop shop…answerable to no stockholder,” which manages the nation’s entire nuclear weapons industry. Guild carries evidence that the Los Alamos lab whitewashed a report about the attack, and wants to find out who the “great and historic” Edder family is protecting. He is looking to hook up with malcontents he calls the Seven Dwarfs. He becomes involved with Dr. Alessandra Almont, his Snow White, “a modern-day Marie Curie” and Nobel Prize candidate who may have her own agenda. In addition, he freelances “a second parallel mission” to learn the truth about “a rumored fourth-generation nuclear weapon…no larger than a heavy Rubik’s Cube” and whose existence could threaten “to unhinge matters of war and peace.” Readers new to the series, of which this is the third entry, may struggle to get their bearings. The writing can be murky. For example, the first mention of the Seven Dwarfs refers to them as “possibles,” but possibles of what is not immediately clarified. In Edder Industries, Shear seems to be setting up a villain of Bondian proportions, but none surfaces. The Edders are only discussed. Some sentences are a bit wordy (“The name of the operation became for a time, the Seven Dwarfs, though it had nothing to do with the number seven or the Disney movie with those characters”). But the compact book is a quick read and Shear appears to know his scientific stuff. Tech-heads should relish lines like this one: “She repurposed the semiconductor substances used in computers to become the gatekeepers between two opposing mutually annihilating states of matter.” The ending is a doozy of a cliffhanger, suggesting a fourth book is in the offing.

A smart but uneven espionage tale.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 220

Publisher: BigWhitePaperPublishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2017

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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