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.

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


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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