The plot fails to cohere mostly because the characters fail to convince, as if the author couldn't quite tap into the...



A beautiful mind gets snuffed, and a forensic psychiatrist Frank Clevenger (Psychopath, 2003, etc.) sniffs something rotten in Denmark.

Suicide’s the initial call, but Dr. Clevenger’s inner olfactometer is registering off the charts. John Snow, M.I.T. professor, aeronautical engineer, and universally acknowledged genius, has died of a gunshot wound to the chest. Boston cops say self-inflicted, but Clevenger says no way. Maybe it’s just that the dead man wasn’t in a suicidal kind of place; there was too much of a positive nature happening in his life. Or look at it this way: the usual suspect list contains an unusual number of sleuth-arousing possibilities. Collin Coroway, for instance, Snow’s partner in Coroway Engineering (radar systems, sonar, missile technology), who becomes sole owner of a multimillion-dollar patent with Snow’s demise. Consider Mrs. Snow, for years a patient Griselda of a wife, now thoroughly aware that she’s become a woman blatantly scorned. Kyle and Lindsay Snow, son and daughter, can't be ruled out either, since each was tormented in different ways by the paternal neglect of icy Snow. And yet, the ironic fact is that Snow, in the four or five months preceding his death, had never been happier. In gloriously beautiful Grace Baxter—auburn hair, green eyes, “the body of a mermaid”—he had found his lovemap. “Lovemaps,” Clevenger explains on several occasions to more or less interested parties, “are people meant for one another.” But is there something a little ersatz about gorgeous Grace? Of course there is, and when Clevenger gathers his suspects together in one room (obeisance here to Dame Agatha), the reader discovers that ersatz has been running wild.

The plot fails to cohere mostly because the characters fail to convince, as if the author couldn't quite tap into the artistry needed to breathe life into them. Ablow has done better work in this series.

Pub Date: July 9, 2004

ISBN: 0-312-32389-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2004

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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.


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.


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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