An engrossing legal mystery with an unforgettable villain.

THE PRESIDENT’S WIDOW

A Memphis, Tennessee, attorney defends the first lady of the United States, who’s facing charges of murdering her spouse in Bates’ thriller.

Maddie Kincade may be a “small-time country lawyer,” but her latest case is in Washington, D.C. Jana Sinclair, her client, is a friend whom Maddie’s parents took in as a 15-year-old when her mom was institutionalized. She also happens to now be the first lady, and she’s accused of killing her husband, President Graham Sinclair. The evidence is damning: Secret Service agent Jack McCaffrey found Jana holding a bloody dagger in the Lincoln bedroom; the couple regularly fought; and she even provided authorities with a full, signed confession. For support, Maddie brings her mentor, professor Ollie Dodd, and her whip-smart assistant, Carly Gibbs. Unfortunately, Ollie is displaying signs of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and although he discovers evidence that could turn the case in Maddie’s favor, he quickly forgets it. Although Jack believes the first lady is guilty, he’s quite taken with her attorney; it’s a mutual feeling, and romance quickly becomes a possibility. Meanwhile, in Texas, a man named Hoyt Tolliver has a deep-rooted animosity toward Maddie. When he hears that she’s in Washington, he travels there on a murderous mission. This novel is relatively lengthy at more than 475 pages, but it moves at a steady clip. Bates keeps his scenes and details concise, which generally benefits the story and characters; the subtle romantic relationship between Maddie and Jack is particularly notable. The courtroom scenes, on the other hand, suffer a bit, as they’re too short for much intensity or intrigue to develop. Moreover, the subplot involving Tolliver occasionally sidelines the main murder plot, particularly in the final act. That said, Tolliver’s backstory and motivation are truly disturbing, and he’s a frightening, formidable menace throughout. There are also several twists in Maddie’s case that may surprise even the most savvy readers.

An engrossing legal mystery with an unforgettable villain.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-69173-197-8

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2020

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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Like the Oregon itself, this novel is fast-moving, implausible, and fun.

CLIVE CUSSLER'S HELLBURNER

This is the 16th installment of the action-packed Oregon Files series.

The mercenary Juan Cabrillo and his dedicated Oregon crew confront a ship carrying contraband, which leads to uncovering the Pipeline, a massive smuggling enterprise. As the series’ fans know, the Oregon is a 590-foot “rust bucket tramp steamer” on the outside and a technological marvel on the inside. It can zip like a speedboat and even change colors. The primary antagonists are two businessmen named Hakobyan and Katrakis, one Armenian and the other Greek, who have known each other for more than 50 years. Their Pipeline is a conduit for transporting arms, munitions, and meth, making it “the envy of the criminal world.” Now the Armenian has a plan to achieve “wealth beyond imagination” and avenge the genocide of Armenians by Turks in the process. They will steal a 100-megaton bomb and explode it underwater in the Bosporus to cause a tsunami that will “drown sixteen million dirty Turks in a flood of their own radioactive bathwater.” And it will happen when POTUS and the Turkish president are in Istanbul. Then Turkey will blame Russia and go to war, dragging in NATO. World War III will ensue, and badda-bing-badda-boom, the old crooks will become richer than Croesus by—um, who knows—rebuilding atop the rubble, apparently. Their plan does seem to have a few holes. Cabrillo and crew get wind of the nuclear-tipped torpedo, and of course the clock is ticking. Spectacular fighting scenes ensue, with ex-SEAL Cabrillo displaying tenacity and skill worthy of the best fictional heroes. While the evildoer Hakobyan will “do business with the Devil himself if it turned a profit,” Cabrillo will never do anything against American interests. Even his prosthetic leg deserves honorable mention for its unexpected utility in combat. The name Hellburner occurs twice near the end and is not integral to the storyline, but it makes for a good title.

Like the Oregon itself, this novel is fast-moving, implausible, and fun.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-54064-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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