A fast-paced and exciting work of crime fiction.

VERDICT DENIED

After a drug cartel abducts his sister, a Kansas judge puts everything on the line to find her in this debut thriller.

In 2018, when Judge Benjamin Joel begins the murder trial of Vaughn Rummell, he doesn’t know that his own life is about to change drastically. The accused is a grandson of a drug kingpin, and his conviction seems certain despite the fact that he has a team of high-powered lawyers on his side. Then a group of masked, armed men abduct Benjamin, his sister, his children, and his fiancee, Keri. After an intense fight that leaves several cartel operatives dead, Benjamin reaches an agreement with the kidnappers: They’ll free everyone except for the judge’s sister, who will only be let go after he dismisses the case against Rummell. But before the verdict can be handed down, Benjamin embarks on a mission to locate and free his sibling on his own. With Keri’s assistance, he steals files from a local detective and tracks down multiple cartel members, locating safe houses, money, and drugs while untangling a web of allies and enemies. Ruhl’s action-packed thriller effectively keeps readers engaged as the characters travel through a messy world of organized crime. The narrative keeps up a swift pace, as in this passage, after Benjamin manages to shoot one of his abductors: “He had some fight left in him, it seemed, which wasn’t all bad. I didn’t want him to die, I wanted to get information out of him. But dammit—I was running out of time.” The excitement rarely wanes, though the narrator does veer into long-winded tangents about court procedure at times, and it’s sometimes difficult to keep up with who’s who in the ever expanding cast. Still, readers will enjoy how the judge unearths secrets and makes connections, and the ending is satisfying.

A fast-paced and exciting work of crime fiction.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 2021

ISBN: 979-8481908014

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Independently Published

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2022

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Terrifying, primal, and very, very tense. Read it with your heart in your throat—but read it.

ONE STEP TOO FAR

Frankie Elkin, a miraculous finder of missing persons, seeks a man who wandered into the wilderness and was never seen again.

Last seen rescuing a missing teenager from the gritty streets of Boston, Frankie embarks from a bus in Ramsey, Wyoming, drawn in by the story of hiker Timothy O’Day, who's been missing for five years, and the last-gasp efforts of his father, Martin, to search for his remains. Frankie has some regrets about leaving Boston, but she's called to find those others have given up on. She manages to finagle her way on to the search party, which in addition to Martin includes a local guide; a search-and-rescue dog and her handler; a Bigfoot expert; and Tim’s friends, who were in the woods with him when he went missing. In the years since, they’ve moved on with their lives, but they are carrying guilt and secrets about the night Tim disappeared. As they all head into the unforgiving wilderness, it quickly becomes apparent that someone is deeply threatened by this effort to find Tim’s body. As she endeavors to draw the truth from each member of the search party, Frankie can tell that she's in over her head, and not only because she’s an inexperienced outdoorswoman. Could Tim still be alive and looking for revenge, or is there a more dangerous secret that someone would kill to protect? Gardner is incredibly skilled at developing tension and suspense; she’s equally skilled at slowly revealing complex characters and their secrets. Both gifts reinforce each other in this novel. If Frankie is out of her element, so are we: It’s not often that a thriller so deeply casts us into the darkness of both nature and the human heart.

Terrifying, primal, and very, very tense. Read it with your heart in your throat—but read it.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-18541-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2021

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Sure to be a bestseller, but the guy’s phoning it in.

THE CAMEL CLUB

A lukewarm would-be potboiler of uninvolving intrigue about a kooky quartet of conspiracy theorists—one by the name of “Oliver Stone”—who witness the murder of a federal agent.

Almost 8,000 Americans have died in attacks on U.S. soil. Rocket-propelled grenades have pierced the White House, there’s been another prison fiasco in Afghanistan, a dozen soldiers are dying every day and the war has opened a new front on the Syrian border. Thus the author’s bleak imagining of the near future. Throughout, Baldacci (Hour Game, 2004, etc.) drops reliable twists, revealing the federal agent murder to be—surprise—a minuscule piece of a much bigger plot involving snipers, nukes, a presidential kidnapping and an even gloomier vision of the future. Baldacci is not a particularly graceful writer, e.g., “Like all Secret Service agents, his suits were designed a little big in the chest, to disguise the bulge of the weapon.” Worse is the author’s chronic inability to draw convincing characters. Scooby-Doo had villains more complicated than these; distinctive quirks of the characters, such as one wearing 19th-century clothing, make them only mildly interesting. Baldacci himself seems only partly engaged in the task here. He writes as if he imagines his typical reader to be a business traveler staring down a long layover.

Sure to be a bestseller, but the guy’s phoning it in.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2005

ISBN: 0-446-57738-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2005

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