A grandly emotional piece that celebrates family and the overlap between Eastern and Western values.

AT DAWN THE SIMORGH APPEARS

In this debut novel, gunmen capture an archaeologist and her interpreter during a visit to ruins in Iran.

Anna, a professor from the Pacific Northwest, met Farah in Paris. She hired Farah to interpret Persian for her at ancient Iranian ruins. The excursion takes a dangerous turn when armed men kidnap the women and drive them to a holding cell. Now, Anna and Farah suffer darkness, strange animals sniffing at the door of their stone prison, and the stress of an unknown fate. To maintain their courage, the women exchange memories of childhood. Farah talks of her beloved father and sisters and time spent in a poppy field. Anna remembers a lonely but satisfying life with her grandparents on Bainbridge Island, surrounded by books and horses. Eventually, a young boy named Samir brings the prisoners bread, cheese, and water. Through his visits, they learn of tension among the gunmen. Some follow the commander, Arash, whom Anna finds striking from a distance. Others obey the vicious upstart, Hassan, who was part of a group that killed Samir’s mother and sister. While examining Anna at knife point, Hassan lightly draws the blade across her flesh to threaten her. Even if the women do escape, they may not get far. Lillehei’s novel embodies how Anna feels about the desert, which possesses beauty that she finds to be “subtle and hidden.” Tightly held secrets inform several characters’ arcs, the most shocking being Samir’s. Readers learn about Persian language (“joon” means soul) and myth. The simorgh is the “eternal bird that nests in the Tree of Knowledge, messenger between sky and earth.” How this legend relates to the plot may require patience from audiences who prefer overt spectacle in their epic adventures. The author does crank up the tension incrementally, but the burgeoning friendship between the analytical Anna and the emotional Farah remains the focus. Lovely moments abound, as when “the azure skies” and “the pastel array of colors of the air where it met the white wisps of cloud” summon the women home. A key incident leads one of the protagonists to an intriguing finale.

A grandly emotional piece that celebrates family and the overlap between Eastern and Western values.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 2020

ISBN: 979-8-57-296169-0

Page Count: 395

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2020

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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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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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Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless...

SPLIT SECOND

Two defrocked Secret Service Agents investigate the assassination of one presidential candidate and the kidnapping of another.

Baldacci (The Christmas Train, 2002, etc.) sets out with two plot strands. The first begins when something distracts Secret Service Agent Sean King and during that “split second,” presidential candidate Clyde Ritter is shot dead. King takes out the killer, but that’s not enough to save his reputation with the Secret Service. He retires and goes on to do often tedious but nonetheless always lucrative work (much like a legal thriller such as this) at a law practice. Plot two begins eight years later when another Secret Service Agent, Michelle Maxwell, lets presidential candidate John Bruno out of her sight for a few minutes at a wake for one of his close associates. He goes missing. Now Maxwell, too, gets in dutch with the SS. Though separated by time, the cases are similar and leave several questions unanswered. What distracted King at the rally? Bruno had claimed his friend’s widow called him to the funeral home. The widow (one of the few characters here to have any life) says she never called Bruno. Who set him up? Who did a chambermaid at Ritter’s hotel blackmail? And who is the man in the Buick shadowing King’s and Maxwell’s every move? King is a handsome, rich divorce, Maxwell an attractive marathon runner. Will they join forces and find each other kind of, well, appealing? But of course. The two former agents traverse the countryside, spinning endless hypotheses before the onset, at last, of a jerrybuilt conclusion that begs credibility and offers few surprises.

Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless concoction.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2003

ISBN: 0-446-53089-1

Page Count: 406

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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