Will VanderMeer rally for a grand slam finale? Stay tuned: The last volume is scheduled for September.

AUTHORITY

From the Southern Reach Trilogy series , Vol. 2

After the chills and thrills of Annihilation, published in February 2014, this second volume in VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy—a science fiction/horror hybrid—is an altogether quieter affair.

It had to be once VanderMeer decided to change the venue from Area X to the Southern Reach HQ. Area X is a spooky no man’s land controlled by an unknown entity (aliens?); 1,500 people have died there since its emergence 30 years ago. The Southern Reach is the secret government agency monitoring it, so we get office politics. Its last director, leader of the expedition described in Annihilation, is missing, presumed dead. This volume is narrated by the newly installed acting director, John Rodriguez, who wants to be called Control. That’s ironic, for unlike le Carré’s same-named pooh-bah, this Control’s authority is tenuous. He owes the job to his mother, a powerful figure at Central, and the assistant director, Grace, is determined to undermine him. Moreover, after three decades of failing to solve the riddle of Area X, Southern Reach is a backwater and morale is low; Control’s mission is to shake things up. First he must get a handle on Area X. He interviews the biologist, a survivor of the last expedition and protagonist of Annihilation, but draws a blank. She is stubbornly tight-lipped. He visits the border, bathed in a strange light, and watches video from the doomed first expedition. He reports to the Voice, a person in Central whose gender is disguised by technology. There are some minor frissons, as when Control discovers an unhinged scientist creating a nightmarish mural, but these are slim pickings compared to the horrors of Annihilation (an essential introduction). Nor does he measure up to the biologist in complexity. His background (Honduran sculptor father, multiple postings, multiple girlfriends) seems cobbled together, and the espionage elements, lackluster. Toward the end, there will be a spectacular development, a late reward after all the shadowboxing.

Will VanderMeer rally for a grand slam finale? Stay tuned: The last volume is scheduled for September.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-374-10410-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless...

SPLIT SECOND

Two defrocked Secret Service Agents investigate the assassination of one presidential candidate and the kidnapping of another.

Baldacci (The Christmas Train, 2002, etc.) sets out with two plot strands. The first begins when something distracts Secret Service Agent Sean King and during that “split second,” presidential candidate Clyde Ritter is shot dead. King takes out the killer, but that’s not enough to save his reputation with the Secret Service. He retires and goes on to do often tedious but nonetheless always lucrative work (much like a legal thriller such as this) at a law practice. Plot two begins eight years later when another Secret Service Agent, Michelle Maxwell, lets presidential candidate John Bruno out of her sight for a few minutes at a wake for one of his close associates. He goes missing. Now Maxwell, too, gets in dutch with the SS. Though separated by time, the cases are similar and leave several questions unanswered. What distracted King at the rally? Bruno had claimed his friend’s widow called him to the funeral home. The widow (one of the few characters here to have any life) says she never called Bruno. Who set him up? Who did a chambermaid at Ritter’s hotel blackmail? And who is the man in the Buick shadowing King’s and Maxwell’s every move? King is a handsome, rich divorce, Maxwell an attractive marathon runner. Will they join forces and find each other kind of, well, appealing? But of course. The two former agents traverse the countryside, spinning endless hypotheses before the onset, at last, of a jerrybuilt conclusion that begs credibility and offers few surprises.

Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless concoction.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2003

ISBN: 0-446-53089-1

Page Count: 406

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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