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

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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: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 315

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2020

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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, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

CROOKED RIVER

FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast finds evil afoot in his latest action-filled adventure (Verses for the Dead, 2018, etc.).

Imagine Florida beachcombers’ shock when they discover a shoe with a severed foot inside. Soon they see dozens more feet, all in identical shoes, bobbing toward the beach. Police and FBI ultimately count more than a hundred of them washing up on Sanibel and Captiva Islands' tranquil shores. Pendergast teams up with the junior Special Agent Armstrong Coldmoon to investigate this strange phenomenon. Oceanographers use a supercomputer to analyze Gulf currents and attempt to determine where the feet entered the ocean. Were they dumped off a ship or an island? Does each one represent a homicide? Analysts examine chemical residues and pollen, even the angle of each foot’s amputation, but the puzzle defies all explanation. Attention focuses on Cuba, where “something terrible was happening” in front of a coastal prison, and on China, the apparent source of the shoes. The clever plot is “a most baffling case indeed” for the brilliant Pendergast, but it’s the type of problem he thrives on. He’s hardly a stereotypical FBI agent, given for example his lemon-colored silk suit, his Panama hat, and his legendary insistence on working alone—until now. Pendergast rarely blinks—perhaps, someone surmises, he’s part reptile. But equally odd is Constance Greene, his “extraordinarily beautiful,” smart, and sarcastic young “ward” who has “eyes that had seen everything and, as a result, were surprised by nothing.” Coldmoon is more down to earth: part Lakota, part Italian, and “every inch a Fed.” Add in murderous drug dealers, an intrepid newspaper reporter, coyotes crossing the U.S.–Mexico border, and a pissed-off wannabe graphic novelist, and you have a thoroughly entertaining cast of characters. There is plenty of suspense, and the action gets bloody.

Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4725-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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