Though the book’s war-on-terror filigree edges close to the universe of Jason Bourne, the (holy) spirit is willing in this...

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Island of the Assassin

Roman Catholic priest and novelist Peter Quince finds himself the surprised employer of an icy, international CIA hit man, whose secret yearning for absolution risks both their lives.

Prolific author Roccasalvo (Triple Sec: Three Distilled Love Stories, 2013, etc.) evokes Graham Greene, rather appropriately, in a novella-length tale of political intrigue, guilt, sin, and redemption. Quince has written a popular mystery-thriller novel, The Thirteenth Floor. Quite unexpectedly, he inherits an entire Mediterranean island and estate from a prosperous Italian artisan he knew only briefly. Quince uses this tourists’ idyll to work on much-anticipated international stage versions of The Thirteenth Floor, but in the meantime makes the troubling acquaintance of another estate fixture, the island’s live-in “security” specialist, Kai Landrie. A Eurasian yoga master with ninja stealth, marathon-runner stamina, and Buddhist self-control, Landrie spends weekends away as an elite assassin for the CIA, killing enemies of the United States with nothing but his bare hands. He makes a specialty of Islamic terrorists, having seen his parents slain (and been himself raped) by Muslims in Thailand. Despite his steely predator exterior, Landrie is severely divided against himself, and he seeks and listens to Quince’s religious counsel of forgiveness and compassion as a counterweight to his drive for revenge. But CIA Director Titus Rede learns of his prize killer’s dawning conversion and finds the meddlesome priest a threat to national security. Roccasalvo uses only a bit more than 100 pages and lean prose reminiscent of classic Ian Fleming (minus the sexual emphasis and brand-name luxury products lovingly described) to unfold a tragic narrative of the sacred and the damned seemingly trying to bridge the gulf between each other. The author includes a clerical nod toward the culture of Italy that sired religious, scientific, and artistic breakthroughs alongside the murderous rules of the Medicis and Borgias. Readers may find the material straddling the aisles between spiritual vestments and cloak-and-dagger, although at no point does the author succumb to thrill-ride antics and pulpy purple prose. He does, however, add excerpts from The Thirteenth Floor as an occasional story-within-the-story; it’s actually interesting stuff (blending architecture, whodunit, and the paranormal), but borderline distracting.   

Though the book’s war-on-terror filigree edges close to the universe of Jason Bourne, the (holy) spirit is willing in this bumpy, parablelike tale. 

Pub Date: March 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5144-7095-4

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2016

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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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