This adventure is more a fanciful story related by a mischievous uncle than an airport thriller—and all the more...

THE PRESENT PAST

Sixty years after the Russo-Japanese War, a Russian field marshal’s grandson tries to unravel the mystery of a long-lost treasure in this globe-trotting debut novel.

It is 1965 and the Cold War is in full swing. Josh Ross, a World War II veteran–turned-diplomat, arrives in Istanbul to dissuade the Turkish government from pursuing hostilities toward Greece. There, he receives a mysterious letter, written in Russian and meant for his dead father. The missive leads him to André Zommer, an academic who fought in the Russo-Japanese War under Josh’s grandfather. Zommer tells Josh about his grandfather, a favorite of the czar and entrusted by the czarina with “something of great value, which she thought he could safeguard better than anyone”—namely a priceless coronation necklace given by Peter the Great to his second wife. This treasure could change the fortunes of hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews looking to immigrate to Israel, so with Sarah Burstein, a Mossad “secretary,” in tow, Josh sets out to find the necklace. But the Soviets are aware of Josh’s presence in Istanbul, and ruthless KGB head Ivan Dzerzhinsky has dispatched operatives to monitor the diplomat’s increasingly suspicious movements as well as deal with anyone who gets in their way. What promises to be a breakneck international thriller in the Dan Brown vein is marred by incompetent antagonists, meager characterization, oddly placed chapter breaks (a prologue is sprinkled over four opening chapters), and a third-person, omniscient point of view that undermines dramatic tension. As a result, the action feels occasionally aimless and the dialogue is largely expositional. This could make for an aggravating read, but the engaging central mystery is rooted in a wealth of research, and Ross relates his story in the kind of breezy, eminently readable prose that frequently makes up for the novel’s shortcomings (“It was always amazing how inhabitants of an area under assault were like flocks of birds before an oncoming storm. Somehow they knew that the winds would howl and the skies would open and bring forth torrents of rain and lightning. They sought shelter far from the storm well before it came”). Autobiographical elements also help to give the narrative the intriguing texture of a tall tale, briskly told by an international man of mystery.

This adventure is more a fanciful story related by a mischievous uncle than an airport thriller—and all the more entertaining for it.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 237

Publisher: ATBOSH Media Ltd.

Review Posted Online: April 11, 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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Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless...

SPLIT SECOND

Two defrocked Secret Service Agents investigate the assassination of one presidential candidate and the kidnapping of another.

Baldacci (The Christmas Train, 2002, etc.) sets out with two plot strands. The first begins when something distracts Secret Service Agent Sean King and during that “split second,” presidential candidate Clyde Ritter is shot dead. King takes out the killer, but that’s not enough to save his reputation with the Secret Service. He retires and goes on to do often tedious but nonetheless always lucrative work (much like a legal thriller such as this) at a law practice. Plot two begins eight years later when another Secret Service Agent, Michelle Maxwell, lets presidential candidate John Bruno out of her sight for a few minutes at a wake for one of his close associates. He goes missing. Now Maxwell, too, gets in dutch with the SS. Though separated by time, the cases are similar and leave several questions unanswered. What distracted King at the rally? Bruno had claimed his friend’s widow called him to the funeral home. The widow (one of the few characters here to have any life) says she never called Bruno. Who set him up? Who did a chambermaid at Ritter’s hotel blackmail? And who is the man in the Buick shadowing King’s and Maxwell’s every move? King is a handsome, rich divorce, Maxwell an attractive marathon runner. Will they join forces and find each other kind of, well, appealing? But of course. The two former agents traverse the countryside, spinning endless hypotheses before the onset, at last, of a jerrybuilt conclusion that begs credibility and offers few surprises.

Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless concoction.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2003

ISBN: 0-446-53089-1

Page Count: 406

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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