The plotting is delectably tricky, but the character of Dark requires more shading before he returns for the promised next...

FREE AGENT

Journalist Duns debuts with a thriller offering more spins than a Bolshoi gala, as an MI6 agent combs Nigeria for a lost love who can untangle a labyrinthine scheme devised during World War II.

In 1969, Paul Dark is summoned by his boss to discuss a Soviet agent, now in Nigeria. Eager to defect, the Russian has promised he’ll finger a British agent turned by Moscow in 1945. Fearing a scandal, the Chief asks Dark to take the case, which involves a nurse who may have blown the cover on Dark’s father when he undertook an operation in Germany during the war. Dark listens, then pulls a Luger and dispatches the Chief. Flashbacks reveal that as the war ended Dark’s father enlisted him in an operation to kill German SS officers. Pursuing one of them, Dark is stabbed. He recuperates at a hospital where he learns his father has abandoned him, leaving a letter telling him to return to England. Dark falls hard for a woman posing as a nurse who is really a Soviet agent. She tries, unsuccessfully, to turn him for the Russians. Then Dark finds his father, shot in the head. Since the nurse may be the same nurse the chief mentioned, Dark must now find her to unravel the case. Once Dark lands in Nigeria, a puzzle promising complexities worthy of le Carré becomes a colorless tale. Like many a noir hero, Dark is drawn to a mysterious woman in a bar. In this case she is Isabelle Dumont, a writer for Agence France-Presse. He trusts her only after he strip-searches her at gunpoint, then makes love to her. The two embark on a trek involving capture, escape and an assassination plot. Eventually Dark brings MI6 the information they need. His superiors spin matters into one final, dry twist that mocks his sense of being a free agent.

The plotting is delectably tricky, but the character of Dark requires more shading before he returns for the promised next episode.

Pub Date: July 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02101-7

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2009

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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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