A second novel that has the trappings of suspense fiction but none of its substance.

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THE MOSES EXPEDITION

The Ark of the Covenant represents a tantalizing prize (yes, again!) in this suspense melodrama from the Spanish author of God’s Spy (2007).

There’s an echo of Raiders of the Lost Ark in the Nazi who opens the story, the “genocidal monster” who performed lethal experiments on Jewish children, one of whose brothers escaped to America. Years later in 2006, Raymond Kayn, now a reclusive New York billionaire, sends Father Anthony Fowler (ex-CIA, now Vatican Secret Service) to Austria to retrieve a family heirloom from the ancient Nazi. It contains a scroll that details the location of the Ark in the Jordanian desert. Kahn also commissions a Spanish journalist, Andrea Otero, to cover the top-secret expedition. (Fowler and Otero are holdovers from God’s Spy, and Kahn needs them both at the site. Exactly why is murky.) There are so many characters they all but trip over each other, and there’s no one narrator to hold everything together; curiously, it’s the brash lesbian Andrea who gets the most attention. The unwieldy expedition arrives in the desert, unaware that Islamic terrorists have preceded them. They are following the orders of shadowy mastermind Huqan, a double agent; when his identity’s finally revealed, it’s sheer unforeshadowed silliness. But he keeps it moving! If the author knows nothing else, he knows how to do that, cross-cutting between the desert and Washington, where a sleuth is on Huqan’s trail. Too bad he dispels the suspense with a chapter heading proclaiming the expedition a disaster. Still, the intrigues continue. Kahn, Fowler and the Vatican—they all have their hidden agendas. Then there’s the irrelevant melodrama: the evil Colombian security guard who sets scorpions on Andrea and killer ants on Fowler, the jihadist in Washington who tortures the sleuth with skewers. As the team closes in on the Ark, bombs go off and bodies pile up and a horrendous sandstorm claims the rest.

A second novel that has the trappings of suspense fiction but none of its substance.

Pub Date: March 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4165-9064-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2010

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

ONE GOOD DEED

Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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Great storytelling about the pursuit of extrajudicial justice.

ONE MINUTE OUT

Ninth in the author’s Gray Man series (Mission Critical, 2019, etc.) in which “the most elite assassin in the world” has his hands full.

Ex–CIA Agent Courtland Gentry (the Gray Man) has Serbian war criminal Ratko Babic in his gun sight, but when he decides instead to kill the old beast face to face, he uncovers a massive sex-slavery ring. “I don’t get off on this,” the Gray Man lies to the reader as he stabs a sentry. “I only kill bad people.” Of course he does. If there weren’t an endless supply of them to slay, he’d have little reason to live. Now, countless young Eastern European women are being lured into sexual slavery and fed into an international pipeline, sold worldwide through “the Consortium.” Bad guys refer to their captives as products, not people. They are “merchandise,” but their plight haunts the Gray Man, so of course he is going to rescue as many women as he can. The road to their salvation will be paved with the dead as he enlists a team of fighters to strike the enemy, which includes a South African dude who is giddy for the chance to meet and kill the Gray Man. Meanwhile, Europol analyst Talyssa Corbu meets the hero while on a personal mission to rescue her sister. “You don’t seem like a psychopath,” she tells him. Indeed, though he could play one on TV. Corbu and her sister are tough and likable characters while the director of the Consortium leads a double life as family man and flesh merchant. Human trafficking is an enormous real-life problem, so it’s satisfying to witness our larger-than-life protagonist put his combat skills to good use. There will be a sequel, of course. As a friend tells the wounded Gentry at the end, he’ll be off killing bozos again before he knows it.

Great storytelling about the pursuit of extrajudicial justice.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09891-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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