THE MAN FROM ST. PETERSBURG

Follett, whose thrillers have been impressively tough-minded, goes all soft now—with a pre-WW I suspense-romance that recycles the Eye of the Needle premise (woman adores assassin) but surrounds it with the soupy conventions of corny family-saga fiction. In 1914, elegant Lydia is the prim, devoted wife of conservative diplomat Lord Walden and the protective mother of 18-year-old Charlotte. But 19 years ago, back in her native Russia, well-born Lydia was the lustfully liberated lover of a young anarchist named Feliks. (She married Walden, in fact, to save Feliks' life when he was arrested.) So now, when Lord Walden is about to begin delicate, war-minded negotiations with Russia's Prince Orlov (Lydia's cousin), guess who's on his way to England to assassinate Orlov? Feliks, of course—whose first murder attempt (hijacking Walden's carriage) fails when he catches sight of old-flame Lydia and momentarily loses his nerve. And—though Feliks then seeks out Lydia, rekindles her flame, and tricks her into telling him where Orlov is hiding out—the second attempt also fails; moreover, despite her passion, Lydia won't knowingly help Feliks to kill Orlov (who's in hiding again). So Feliks now starts following Lydia's naive daughter Charlotte—who, as it happens, has just begun rebelling against her quasi-Victorian upbringing. (There's the usual suffragette sequence—handled less well here than in dozens of other historical novels.) And, implausibly, Charlotte quickly becomes Feliks' unwitting accomplice, while Feliks—suddenly humanized—stews guiltily, because. . . Charlotte is his daughter! The finale, then: Feliks goes after Orlov, who's at the Walden country estate; Lydia figures out Feliks' plan but can't warn her husband without revealing the secret of Charlotte's paternity; Charlotte learns who Feliks really is; and, after killing Orlov, Feliks sacrifices his life to save Charlotte's. Unfortunately, this operatic, sentimental-melodrama setup is full of holes—from the coincidence-heavy plotting to the unconvincing characterizations to the dubious history. (You never believe that Orlov's death will really prevent World War I.) And the narration is uncharacteristically slack—heavy on flashbacks and droopily emotional internal-monologues. Still, though this is Follett's weakest book by far, the big-name byline and the overall readability (plus a jolt or two of graphic sex) should ensure a sizeable readership—with historical-romantics more likely to be pleased than Follett's usual thriller fans.

Pub Date: May 14, 1982

ISBN: 0451208706

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1982

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Child builds tension to unbearable extremes, then blows it out in sharply choreographed violence, even if his plot has more...

ECHO BURNING

From the Jack Reacher series , Vol. 5

Smashingly suspenseful fifth in Child’s series (Running Blind, 2000, etc.) lands this British author’s rootless, laconic action hero in southwest Texas, where a femme fatale lures him into a family squabble that inevitably turns violent.

In the kind of daylight-noir setting that Jim Thompson loved, ex-military cop Jack Reacher has his thumb out on a lonely west Texas highway when he’s picked up by Carmine Greer, the Mexican-American wife of bad-ol’-boy Sloop Greer. It seems that Sloop, elder son of a white-trash-turned-oil-rich ranching dynasty, is nearing the end of a prison term for tax evasion, and Carmine, whose body Reacher sees is marked with signs of physical abuse, wants Reacher to be her bodyguard—or, failing that, kill the man in such a way that Carmine can still hold on to her terminally cute six-year-old daughter Ellie. Reacher refuses but decides to meet the folks: Rusty, Sloop’s racist, charmless mother, and Bobby, Sloop’s stupid, pugnacious brother. Meanwhile, a trio of paid assassins is littering the Texas roadside with corpses, starting with Sloop’s lawyer, Al Eugene. In a set-piece as good as anything in Elmore Leonard, Bobby sends two ranch-hands to ambush Reacher at an Abilene roadhouse filled with 20 other cowboys spoiling for a fight. Reacher walks away without a scratch, telling Bobby that his hospitalized ranch-hands have “quit.” Child twists his increasingly hokey plot into a pretzel when Sloop is found dead and Carmine confesses to killing him. Reacher just can’t believe that Carmine is guilty and teams up with Alice Aarons, a leggy Jewish lesbian fresh out of law school, who trusts him with her car, her handgun, and her life.

Child builds tension to unbearable extremes, then blows it out in sharply choreographed violence, even if his plot has more holes in it than the shirt Reacher uses for target practice.

Pub Date: July 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14726-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2001

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