Yes, it’s too long, resulting in a certain noticeable softness around the middle, but time and place are so vividly evoked,...

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STARDUST

Kanon’s atmospheric, character-driven latest (Alibi, 2005, etc.) comes within a whisker of being flawless.

Hollywood, 1945: a place where an observer as shrewd as Ben Collier could easily conclude, “Nothing can lie like a smile.” Lots of smilers, lots of lies, lots of reasons for Ben not to believe that his brother Danny’s death was either a suicide or an accident, though both have been put forward as explanations. Still in uniform, Signal Corps officer Ben arrives in Hollywood on assignment to make a Nazi death-camp documentary for the army. He’ll work under the auspices of Continental Films and Sol Lasner, its pepper-pot founder and boss. But there’s a subtext, of course. In Germany, where they were boys, Ben adored his charismatic older brother. Danny’s charm, unflagging energy and zest for life were givens in the Kohler household. Suicide? Never! Accident? Well, perhaps, but Ben can’t be convinced of its likelihood. Though circumstances, mostly those attendant on being a Jew under Hitler, uprooted and eventually separated them, the brothers had remained in touch as best they could, while leading far-flung and disparate lives: Ben a soldier, Danny a movie producer. A movie producer with enigmatic sides to him, Ben discovers as his investigation intensifies. There’s the mystery surrounding his role as husband, for instance, to the beautiful Liesl, who will come to loom large in Ben’s own life. There are the unsettling ways Danny seems connected to the infamous Congressional Red-baiting that’s breaking so many careers and hearts now that the Russians are no longer U.S. allies. His brother had bitter enemies, Ben soon realizes. Which one was a murderer?

Yes, it’s too long, resulting in a certain noticeable softness around the middle, but time and place are so vividly evoked, and the writing is so strong, that most readers will be of a mind to forgive.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4391-5614-8

Page Count: 506

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2009

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An enjoyable read. Berry’s fans won’t be disappointed.

THE WARSAW PROTOCOL

Holy relics, a salt mine, and treachery feature in this 15th entry in the author’s Cotton Malone series (The Malta Exchange, 2019, etc.).

Former lawyer and American intelligence officer Cotton Malone is now a bookseller who goes to Bruges, Belgium, for an antiquarian book fair. He’s hired by a former boss to steal the Holy Lance, one of the seven “weapons of Christ,” or Arma Christi. That is the price of admission to a secret auction, in which various countries will bid on compromising information about Poland’s president, Janusz Czajkowski. The point? Czajkowski is an honorable man who will not allow the U.S. to build a missile system on Polish soil, and the EU– and NATO-hating U.S. President Fox is one of several people who want the Polish leader out of the way at all costs. “If I wanted a conscience, I’d buy one,” Fox says. Readers will have to pay close attention to suss out the meaning of Czajkowski’s Warsaw Protocol because the author hardly hammers it home. But the story is fun regardless, especially with characters like the smart and resourceful Malone and the Polish foreign intelligence officer Sonia Draga, “a fortress, often scaled and assaulted, but never conquered.” The complex plot leads to a magnificent Polish salt mine (a real place) that’s hundreds of meters deep with nine layers, has hundreds of miles of tunnels, brine lakes people can’t sink in, and lots of tourists. Berry builds suspense nicely, allowing readers to anticipate the violence that eventually comes. To a great extent, the novel is a richly detailed homage to Poland, its culture, and its ability to survive so many invasions over the centuries. The connection between Arma Christi and an unwanted American missile system feels a wee bit iffy, but at least the latter won’t be called the Holy Lance.

An enjoyable read. Berry’s fans won’t be disappointed.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-14030-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

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THE INSTITUTE

The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie.

Tim Jamieson is a man emphatically not in a hurry. As King’s (The Outsider, 2018, etc.) latest opens, he’s bargaining with a flight attendant to sell his seat on an overbooked run from Tampa to New York. His pockets full, he sticks out his thumb and winds up in the backwater South Carolina town of DuPray (should we hear echoes of “pray”? Or “depraved”?). Turns out he’s a decorated cop, good at his job and at reading others (“You ought to go see Doc Roper,” he tells a local. “There are pills that will brighten your attitude”). Shift the scene to Minneapolis, where young Luke Ellis, precociously brilliant, has been kidnapped by a crack extraction team, his parents brutally murdered so that it looks as if he did it. Luke is spirited off to Maine—this is King, so it’s got to be Maine—and a secret shadow-government lab where similarly conscripted paranormally blessed kids, psychokinetic and telepathic, are made to endure the Skinnerian pain-and-reward methods of the evil Mrs. Sigsby. How to bring the stories of Tim and Luke together? King has never minded detours into the unlikely, but for this one, disbelief must be extra-willingly suspended. In the end, their forces joined, the two and their redneck allies battle the sophisticated secret agents of The Institute in a bloodbath of flying bullets and beams of mental energy (“You’re in the south now, Annie had told these gunned-up interlopers. She had an idea they were about to find out just how true that was"). It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps.

King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-1056-7

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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