There’s an honorable, unsung tradition of African-American novelists using the counterspy genre as a metaphor for what...

AMERICAN SPY

The bitter education of an African-American intelligence agent is framed against the background of a real-life coup d’état three decades ago in Burkina Faso.

It’s 1987, and Marie Mitchell has hit the wall as an FBI agent. She’s patronized and marginalized by her boss, who relegates her to little more than recruiting informants (or “snitches,” as she derisively calls them) and filing “oppressive amounts of paperwork.” This is not how this idealistic (but hardly naïve) daughter of an NYPD officer hoped her life would turn out back when she and her sister, Helene, dreamed of becoming secret agents when they grew up. At this low point of her professional life, Marie is recruited by Ed Ross, a smooth-talking CIA official, to take part in a covert operation to undermine the regime of Burkina Faso’s magnetic young president, Thomas Sankara, a Marxist influenced by the example of the martyred revolutionary Che Guevara. From the beginning of her assignment, Marie is both wary of the agency’s reasons for taking down Sankara and skeptical toward Sankara’s leftist politics, though the closer she gets to Sankara, the less inclined she is to dismiss his efforts to improve his nation’s welfare. Nevertheless, Marie has another, more personal motive for accepting the assignment: the agent-in-charge, Daniel Slater, was both a colleague and lover of her sister, who fulfilled her ambition to become a spy but died in a car accident whose circumstances remain a mystery to Marie and her family. The more embedded Marie gets in her assignment, the less certain she is of what that assignment entails and of who, or what, she’s really working for. Falling in love with her target—Sankara, who in real life was violently overthrown that same year—is yet another complication that further loosens Marie’s professional resolve. There are many tangled strands to unravel here for Marie, the reader, and first-time novelist Wilkinson, who nonetheless navigates the psychic and physical terrain of this tale of divided loyalties with the poise of such classic masters as Eric Ambler and Graham Greene spiked with late-20th-century black American intellectual history.

There’s an honorable, unsung tradition of African-American novelists using the counterspy genre as a metaphor for what W.E.B. Du Bois called "double consciousness," and Wilkinson’s book is a noteworthy contribution.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9895-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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