A conventional thriller elevated by the author’s masterly juggling of characters and subplots.

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DEAD PROMISE

The U.S. struggles to fight a pandemic—with viral outbreaks in three major cities—while agencies search for the mastermind behind the biological assault in this sequel.

The call to the FBI about a potential attack unfortunately has merit. A canister in a New York City subway station released an airborne mutated H5N1 virus that spreads quickly. FBI partners (and currently lovers) Georgiana “George” Reed and Mark Strickland are on the case, but their prime suspect, biochemist Dr. Suzy Chen, may already be dead. Someone fired a bullet into her head, likely an assassin for “the Organization,” referenced in a cryptic note Suzy left behind. An attempt to kill her boyfriend, Army intelligence officer Col. Max Graham, however, fails. George and Mark turn to Max for answers regarding Suzy, including the possibility that Dr. Eric Adams, director of the lab where the two were employed, is an accomplice. The Organization’s enigmatic Director, meanwhile, learning that Max is still breathing, sees the colonel as a loose end, because Suzy could have told him anything. Finding the person behind the terrorist strike entails tracing a bank account (also from Suzy’s note) as well as the biochemist’s probable motive. The Director promised to get Suzy’s separated-at-birth twin sister, Lee, a prostitute, out of Hong Kong. While a Manhattan hospital deals with an influx of infected patients, there are also significant outbreaks in Miami and Chicago. The CDC’s working on a vaccine, but it could take months—time the American people don’t have. Wells’ (Dead Love, 2013) latest novel picks up right where her preceding book left off. She adeptly eases her audience into the story, reintroducing characters with minimal exposition or recapping, and even readers just joining the series shouldn’t be lost. The (occasionally) nonlinear narrative is likewise utilized to great effect; George and Mark, for example, get a report of a murder—one that, in a later scene, a drunken Max (upset over Suzy’s fate) awakens to discover. As the pandemic affects so many people, Wells includes an abundance of relevant characters, from doctors and flight attendants to President Jake Howland and his advisers in the Cabinet Room. As in the earlier book, all these players beget various relationships and accompanying obstacles: George is reluctant to be with partner and subordinate Mark; nurse Chris Noel is worried about her sickly lover, Dr. Dave Grant, as is his wife, Vicki. The no-frills narrative complements the short chapters, providing the tale with a brisk pace, especially considering that it began in the midst of the action. But, though George and Mark, along with Max, are unmistakably the protagonists, they don’t have much impact on the main plot. Quantico’s cyber-forensics team uncovers most of the leads, such as another canister, while a surprising character becomes suspicious of the person who, readers already know, is the Director. There’s a definite resolution—a couple of crucial deaths cap off some of the storylines—but plenty of lingering questions remain, enough for the series’ third entry.

A conventional thriller elevated by the author’s masterly juggling of characters and subplots.

Pub Date: June 19, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5377-0488-3

Page Count: 338

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2017

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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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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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THE LAST TRIAL

Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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