A thriller with well-crafted characters that is hampered by cumbersome exposition.

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WHEN THE PAST CAME CALLING

In Kaplan’s (A Colony of Eves, 2011, etc.) latest novel, a personal injury attorney’s ties to a conspiracy theorist and the daughter of a cult leader draws him into a dangerous world of Cold War intrigue.

In 1989, David Miller, an affable, successful tort lawyer, finds it odd when his old high school friend U.S. Attorney for Northern Illinois Michael Eisenberg calls him at work. It turns out that he’s calling at the behest of the FBI with questions about their eccentric, estranged mutual friend Benny Friedman, who was obsessed with the JFK assassination, and Benny’s former neighbors, a fringe religious sect called “Truce of God.” The FBI and CIA claim that Truce of God has lured away an important government scientist. David once had an unrequited, teenage love for Lena Montgomery, the daughter of the sect’s leader, and the agencies use this fact to ensure his assistance in their investigation. But what David doesn’t know is that the scientist is fictional—just a ploy to lure Benny out of hiding before he reveals secrets about the Kennedy murder. The novel has a strong setup, and it effectively establishes the characters’ longtime friendships. The flashbacks to Lincolnwood, Illinois, where they grew up, capture a familiar spirit of the 1960s. Kaplan also gives readers a tangible sense of David’s life within a real community, and his interactions with his genial lawyer uncle and overly nosy secretary establish him as well-meaning and savvy. However, the book largely discards such pleasant flourishes later, as steady exposition dominates the latter half—ranging from Benny’s manifesto about JFK’s death to the motivations of the villain, CIA agent Tristan Conrad. More action scenes, or even a few tender character moments, might have broken things up a bit. Instead, the novel cuts short a tense shootout and denies readers a chance to revel in David and Lena’s reunion.

A thriller with well-crafted characters that is hampered by cumbersome exposition.

Pub Date: June 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-1497478596

Page Count: 252

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 8, 2014

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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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Professionally entertaining, with lots of realistically frustrating false hopes—though it’s hard to worry very much about...

NEON PREY

Lucas Davenport goes west.

But first he goes south, called from his home in Minnesota to the Louisiana swamp where hired killer Clayton Deese buried at least five people (the total is actually higher) before coming a cropper seven months ago with his latest target, Howell Paine. Things went sideways, sending Paine to the hospital and sentencing Deese to an ankle monitor he sliced through three days ago. Local FBI agent Sandro Tremanty, discovering Deese’s absence, wants help from the U.S. marshals in rounding up his quarry so that he can implicate loan shark Roger Smith, who’d hired him to hurt Paine and send a warning to his other debtors. And there’s another reason the feds would like to get Deese off the streets: His experiments in homicide have given him a taste for human flesh. Soon enough, Lucas, together with marshals Rae Givens and Bob Matees, has picked up Deese’s trail, which leads first to Marina Del Rey, where he’s joined his half brother, Marion Beauchamps, and Jayden Nast, “a guy with guns, who hates cops,” in a brutal home-invasion crew. Conscientious detective work brings Lucas and the LAPD within a whisker of catching Deese, but he slips away from them and heads to Las Vegas with Genesis Cox, the blonde he’s picked up, and John Rogers Cole, another accomplice. Deese and his cohort must constantly pull new jobs to support their gambling and drug habits, and it’s hard to imagine their eluding the law for very long. But there are deeper threats to their racket. Roger Smith, who knows plenty about Deese, realizes he has every reason to get rid of him, and there turns out to be no honor among the thieves closer to home either.

Professionally entertaining, with lots of realistically frustrating false hopes—though it’s hard to worry very much about the leading question here: Will the franchise hero (Twisted Prey, 2018, etc.) succeed in bringing the crooks to justice before they wipe each other off the face of the Earth?

Pub Date: April 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53658-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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