A delightfully peculiar, intricate, and engaging mystery.


A college freshman stumbles on a dark web-rooted conspiracy in this thriller.

University of Chicago student Zak Skinner is failing engineering school—again. He transferred from New York University mere months ago for that same reason. Understandably distraught, Zak runs into David Wade, a floor mate from his dorm, and winds up voluntarily drinking a hallucinogenic concoction. By the time Zak comes to, things have turned noticeably weird. David has seemingly disappeared, and Zak has a simple store receipt with hidden numbers and, perhaps, a secret message. It may all be part of a scam, as someone has been supposedly drugging impressionable freshmen who will believe anything anyone tells them. But that doesn’t explain the thugs who capture Zak and his best friend/roommate, Pat Riley, giving them 24 hours to hand over the receipt. Deciphering the significance of that piece of paper takes Zak deep into a conspiracy linked to a darknet website and billions in American dollars. But answers aren’t easy to come by, as the receipt’s apparent code isn’t clear, and people evade Zak’s myriad questions. Time may be running out, as he’s fairly certain someone is trying to kill him. Towles’ taut novel moves at a steady clip, as the protagonist encounters a variety of odd characters both on and off campus. Regarding the plot, readers may be just as confused as Zak; it’s often cryptic and features someone promising to protect Zak from “villains you can’t see.” But it’s undoubtedly suspenseful, with dubious characters aplenty who occasionally threaten or assault Zak. They’re not all bad; Riley makes a superb sidekick who also finds trouble (mostly by association), and Zak dabbles in some effectively understated romance. While there’s definitely a resolution, along with an enlightening glimpse at the hero’s past, the ending implies that a sequel may be forthcoming.

A delightfully peculiar, intricate, and engaging mystery.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64456-334-2

Page Count: 242

Publisher: Indies United Publishing House

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2021

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A well-turned, if predictable, installment in the popular series.


With the United States the “closest [it’s] been to war” in a lifetime, intelligence operative Jack Ryan Jr. faces stiff odds in trying to avert disaster with China.

Trouble with China begins brewing (yet again in the Clancy books) with the rendition of a Chinese scientist and the killing of his American brother, a specialist in machine learning. With a sniper attack on the German outpost of The Campus, Ryan’s “off-the-books” agency, and the downing of an American plane over the South China Sea, U.S. efforts to recover a Chinese undersea glider capable of detecting a $3 billion American stealth submarine are in jeopardy. Things look especially grim with the capture of crash survivor John Clark, Ryan’s boss and a close compadre of his father, President Jack Ryan Sr. With Ryan Sr. still shaken by the abduction of his wife a year ago and Ryan Jr. doubtful of his abilities as a team leader, it's up to intelligence director Mary Pat Foley to calm the waters with her expertise and strong will. One possible outcome is a Chinese attack on Taiwan. In Bentley’s third outing in the series, it takes a while to get past cookie cutter stuff: Many pages go by before the reader knows what all the tense language, chase scenes, and international travel are about. But the book's cool, checkerboard efficiency eventually takes hold. And the streaks of vulnerability that run through the Ryans impart a human dimension that most such thrillers lack. Bentley also takes pains to distinguish the novel from fake fiction: “Unlike in the movies, getting struck by a rifle round moving at several thousand feet per second was not insignificant.”

A well-turned, if predictable, installment in the popular series.

Pub Date: May 23, 2023

ISBN: 9780593422786

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2023

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.


Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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