A well-paced espionage tale that centers on the slow unraveling of a complex mystery.

The Sterling Forest

A newly elected U.S. congressman, before he’s ever sworn in, travels to Europe to uncover his family’s secret history as Lithuanian resistance fighters in Fenzel’s (The Lazarus Covenant, 2009) thriller.

Illinois congressman-elect Daniel Tory, a mere week after his victory, heads to his old neighborhood in Chicago. He’s saddened by the passing of his beloved Uncle Jonas, but even more shaken by a photograph he finds near his uncle’s body. It shows a much younger Jonas; Daniel’s mother, Tanya; and another man, all dressed in what appear to be Soviet Army uniforms. Tanya won’t explain the picture, and Daniel later learns that Jonas, who came from a family of Lithuanian émigrés, was actually a closet millionaire who left him millions. Jonas’ safe deposit box reveals more: a diary from Daniel’s father, Lucas, who died decades ago in a Soviet prison without knowing his son, and considerably more funds in Swiss bank accounts. Hoping for answers, Daniel flies to Switzerland—Jonas left him a custom jet—with just-appointed, multilingual Chief of Staff Robin Nielsen, who translates Lucas’ journal. Awaiting him in Geneva is the Tory Foundation, an organization pitted squarely against Russia. Daniel, as the foundation’s new leader, is now an apparent Kremlin target. He also catches wind of a potential Russian invasion of the Baltics. With help from friends and the CIA, he dodges assassins and tries to prevent a third world war. Fenzel manages a steady pace for his protagonist, whose adventure necessitates further flights to Moscow and Vilnius, Lithuania. Along the way, there are quite a few plot bombshells. The intermittent appearances of Lucas’ journal entries are surprisingly riveting as they tell the story of two brothers who battle Soviet soldiers and steal Nazi gold. The story is hampered by unmistakable errors, though, including muddled dates for Lucas’ birth year and when exactly the Soviets imprisoned him. Fenzel bolsters the tale with a predictable but welcome romance between Daniel and Robin, as well as credible action: after all, jumping from a moving train is far from easy for an untrained, inexperienced protagonist, and it’s not something that Daniel would like to repeat.

A well-paced espionage tale that centers on the slow unraveling of a complex mystery.

Pub Date: July 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9822379-1-5

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Breathe Press

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2016

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The perfect gift for well-read mystery mavens who complain that they don’t write them like they used to.

EIGHT PERFECT MURDERS

A ghoulish killer brings a Boston bookseller’s list of perfect fictional murders to life—that is, to repeated, emphatic death.

The Red House Mystery, Malice Aforethought, The A.B.C. Murders, Double Indemnity, Strangers on a Train, The Drowner, Deathtrap, The Secret History: They may not be the best mysteries, reflects Malcolm Kershaw, but they feature the most undetectable murders, as he wrote on a little-read blog post when he was first hired at Old Devils Bookstore. Now that he owns the store with mostly silent partner Brian Murray, a semifamous mystery writer, that post has come back to haunt him. FBI agent Gwen Mulvey has observed at least three unsolved murders, maybe more, that seem to take their cues from the stories on Mal’s list. What does he think about possible links among them? she wonders. The most interesting thing he thinks is something he’s not going to share with her: He’s hiding a secret that would tie him even more closely to that list than she imagines. And while Mal is fretting about what he can do to help stop the violence without tipping his own hand, the killer, clearly untrammeled by any such scruples, continues down the list of fictional blueprints for perfect murders. Swanson (Before She Knew Him, 2019, etc.) jumps the shark early from genre thrills to metafictional puzzles, but despite a triple helping of cleverness that might seem like a fatal overdose, the pleasures of following, and trying to anticipate, a narrator who’s constantly second- and third-guessing himself and everyone around him are authentic and intense. If the final revelations are anticlimactic, that’s only because you wish the mounting complications, like a magician’s showiest routine, could go on forever.

The perfect gift for well-read mystery mavens who complain that they don’t write them like they used to.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-283820-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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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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