Somehow, Greaney cranks out one winner after another. That’s a lot of work for the Gray Man and plenty of pleasure for...

AGENT IN PLACE

Seventh in the high-powered Gray Man series (Gunmetal Gray, 2017, etc.).

The Islamic State group is about to execute Courtland Gentry—the Gray Man—and leave his body floating with others in a bloody lake. Then the story backs up a week to show how he got into this unholy mess. Gentry is ex-CIA, now an assassin for hire. He meets in Paris with Dr. Tarek Halaby, head of the Free Syria Exile Union, or what’s left of it. All the brave members are dead, Halaby says, and he jokes that perhaps Gentry would like to kill the Syrian president for him. “A mission into Syria,” they both agree, is “a fool’s errand.” Which naturally means he'll go there. Halaby hires him to rescue the model Bianca Medina from an imminent IS attack, part of a plan that Halaby hopes will "deal a serious blow to the Syrian regime and hasten the end" of the cruel civil war. A stunning beauty who’s protected by bodyguards in a Paris hotel, Medina is the lover of Ahmed al-Azzam, the brutal Syrian president and “most horrible man in the world"—and also, as she tells Halaby after Gentry brings her back to his safe house, she's secretly the mother of Jamal, Azzam's only son. Azzam’s wife, Shakira, aka “the First Lady of Hell,” knows about Bianca and wants her dead. (Thus the IS attack, which she manipulated.) Halaby isn't sure if Shakira knows about Jamal (she does), but he's sure she'll kill the boy if she does. Bianca is itching to return to Syria to be with Jamal, who's been left behind with a bodyguard, but Gentry, against his own better judgment, agrees to go get him. If there’s “one shot in hell” to snatch the child from the evil dad, “that shot was the Gray Man," a sharpshooter who will gladly kill Azzam if only he can get close enough. So, as anyone who follows the series knows, plenty of blood spills. Whether any of that blood is Assad's—oops, Azzam's—is for the reader to find out. Court Gentry claims to kill only for cash, yet he mostly nails just the bad guys—deep down, he has a moral code. Readers of the great Tom Clancy will salivate over this fast-moving and well-plotted yarn, which is part of a consistently appealing series in which each assignment is billed as the most dangerous ever.

Somehow, Greaney cranks out one winner after another. That’s a lot of work for the Gray Man and plenty of pleasure for thriller fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-451-48890-9

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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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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King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

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THE INSTITUTE

The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie.

Tim Jamieson is a man emphatically not in a hurry. As King’s (The Outsider, 2018, etc.) latest opens, he’s bargaining with a flight attendant to sell his seat on an overbooked run from Tampa to New York. His pockets full, he sticks out his thumb and winds up in the backwater South Carolina town of DuPray (should we hear echoes of “pray”? Or “depraved”?). Turns out he’s a decorated cop, good at his job and at reading others (“You ought to go see Doc Roper,” he tells a local. “There are pills that will brighten your attitude”). Shift the scene to Minneapolis, where young Luke Ellis, precociously brilliant, has been kidnapped by a crack extraction team, his parents brutally murdered so that it looks as if he did it. Luke is spirited off to Maine—this is King, so it’s got to be Maine—and a secret shadow-government lab where similarly conscripted paranormally blessed kids, psychokinetic and telepathic, are made to endure the Skinnerian pain-and-reward methods of the evil Mrs. Sigsby. How to bring the stories of Tim and Luke together? King has never minded detours into the unlikely, but for this one, disbelief must be extra-willingly suspended. In the end, their forces joined, the two and their redneck allies battle the sophisticated secret agents of The Institute in a bloodbath of flying bullets and beams of mental energy (“You’re in the south now, Annie had told these gunned-up interlopers. She had an idea they were about to find out just how true that was"). It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps.

King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-1056-7

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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