With characters as flat as construction paper and a formulaic plot, this book manages what other thrillers about the NSA...

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K STREET

Kay Hamilton—former Drug Enforcement Administration agent and woman of steel—takes on the all-knowing National Security Agency in the third entry in Lawson's series (Viking Bay, 2015, etc.).

Dividing the timeline into days and hours, Lawson’s latest starts with a crime at the office of Hamilton’s employer, covert intelligence agency the Callahan Group. Bad guy Otis and his crew break in, kill a couple of the company’s employees, and steal the safe. Thomas Callahan fights back, killing one of the intruders, but he’s badly wounded in the process. Enter Hamilton, deadly, beautiful, and dismissed from the DEA. She goes on the offensive, trading bullets with the bad guys before her boss whispers that it has something to do with the NSA. Hamilton enlists the NSA’s Olivia Prescott to help her find the men who attacked Callahan’s, has a steamy interlude with her sexy, filthy-rich lover, Eli Dolan, reflects on her brilliant daughter away at Duke studying to be a physician, and unravels a conspiracy that involves both ultraconservative brothers and hard-left liberals, a drunken woman who never speaks in anything less than a scream, and some bad Chinese players. Lawson’s mechanical writing style—with its passive constructions and relentless physical descriptions of every character, no matter how minor—proves uniformly dull. Although the author gets points for trying to make the plot relevant to today’s headlines, he ultimately offers the reader no one to care about: Hamilton has no depth nor anything that makes her particularly sympathetic or endearing. As a result, any vulnerability she has wields the emotional impact of a bowl of cornflakes: it has a little flavor, but it’s not at all memorable.

With characters as flat as construction paper and a formulaic plot, this book manages what other thrillers about the NSA have failed to do: make it boring.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-57384-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Blue Rider Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

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. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Creepy, violent, and propulsive; a standout gothic mystery.

THINGS IN JARS

Lady detective Bridie Devine searches for a missing child and finds much more than she bargained for.

Bridie Devine is no stranger to the seedy underworld of Victorian London. An accomplished detective with medical training, she sometimes helps the police by examining bodies to determine the cause of death. Bridie recently failed to find a lost child, and when she’s approached about another missing child, the daughter of Sir Edmund Berwick, she isn’t enthusiastic about taking on the case. But Christabel Berwick is no ordinary child. Sir Edmund has hidden Christabel away her whole life and wants Bridie to believe this is an ordinary kidnapping. Bridie does a little digging and learns that Christabel isn’t his daughter so much as his prized specimen. Sir Edmund believes Christabel is a “merrow,” a darker and less romanticized version of a mermaid. Bridie is skeptical, but there are reports of Christabel’s sharp teeth, color-changing eyes, and ability to drown people on dry land. Given that Bridie’s new companion is a ghost who refuses to tell her why he’s haunting her, Bridie might want to open her mind a bit. There’s a lot going on in this singular novel, and none of it pretty. Bridie’s London is soaked with mud and blood, and her past is nightmarish at best. Kidd (Mr. Flood’s Last Resort, 2018, etc.) is an expert at setting a supernatural mood perfect for ghosts and merrows, but her human villains make them seem mundane by comparison. With so much detail and so many clever, Dickensian characters, readers might petition Kidd to give Bridie her own series.

Creepy, violent, and propulsive; a standout gothic mystery.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-2128-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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