The Incendiary Agent

In Reiss’ debut thriller, CIA surveillance leads agents to a counterfeiting sting, which may be the precursor to a full-scale terrorist assault.
Nathan Frost funds the New York University scholarship program to aid visiting Israeli and Arab students. But the program’s true purpose is to allow Frost to monitor for his CIA superiors the student applicants selected for having suspicious backgrounds and, thus, likelihoods of being or becoming intelligence sources. He hits pay dirt when one turns out to be a Mossad agent with an interest in another applicant, who might be a terrorist. The latter’s cellphone, which has three numbers in its call history, directs Frost to a Secret Service counterfeiting operation with ties to the Russian mob. While this doesn’t explain the presence of an Islamic terrorist in the U.S., the third contact on the cellphone might, and Frost and fellow CIA agents Diana Calabrese and Kerwin Chan must uncover a potential attack that’s more sinister and decidedly more lethal than counterfeit currency. Despite the plot’s inclusion of a seemingly endless array of characters from various agencies—there are even more countries with agents in the mix—the novel never feels convoluted or confusing. Reiss manages this by simplifying certain details; for instance, Frost’s boss is named (and is nothing more than) “The Man on the Phone.” The story excels at detailing espionage; Frost is an exceptional spy, stealthily bugging people with video and/or audio devices and employing more traditional methods, such as shadowing a Russian gangster to a subway train. But there are also quite a few solid action scenes, and Frost is more than prepared for any situation; he has an amusingly excessive arsenal of weapons stashed in a locker, which leaves Diana in awe; “I have one gun,” she counters. The book is occasionally violent, but a torture scene, with surprisingly muted intensity, has the most impact and will have many readers squirming. The majority of the story’s questions are sufficiently resolved before it’s over, and a coda teases a sequel. Oddly, though this is the first novel to feature Frost and Diana, there’s an impression that another story preceded it; the couple’s flirtatious relationship is already established by their first scene together, and the manner in which Frost financed his program, with help from Diana, is hinted at in a newspaper article at the beginning and only partly explained later. That could have been a story all its own.
A deliciously elaborate story, with spies, guns and intrigue in liberal doses.

Pub Date: March 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-1495477911

Page Count: 190

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

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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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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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