An intriguing but ultimately underwhelming architecture tale.

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THE FREEDOM BUILDING

An architect wakes up unable to remember the last three years—the most successful of his career—in this debut novel.

When the Zenith Star building in downtown Blanworth is destroyed in a terrorist attack, local architect John Gowan isn’t overly upset. In fact, John jokes that it was probably an architect who blew up the ugly glass tower. He wonders who will get the contract to build the replacement, though his partner, Pete Williams, assures him it will be a bigger firm than theirs. Even so, John begins to fantasize about the building he would put on the site if given the chance. Following a car accident, John awakes in a hospital bed, assuming a day has passed at most. It turns out that it’s actually been three and a half years. But John hasn’t been in a coma the whole time: During the elapsed period, he actually managed to win the contract to replace the Zenith Star building. “Three and a half years ago,” he reads incredulously in the newspaper, “after the destruction of the old Zenith Star building, the little-known architect John Gowan had a dream to design a new building that might not only restore Blanworth’s city skyline” but revolutionize it. The new construction based on his design is scheduled to begin that same day. John simply has no memory of any of it. What’s more, when he tries to look at the image of his design in the paper, his vision becomes blurry. In fact, when he attempts to look at any blueprints or specs of the building, he is simply incapable of seeing them. Struggling to keep his condition a secret, John sets out to discover exactly what happened to him to cause him to lose his memory, unveiling a mystery that is much deeper than any terrorist conspiracy. Kendall has concocted a nifty little puzzle, reminiscent of a plotline from The Twilight Zone or perhaps Black Mirror. But as pure literature, the book is somewhat problematic. The author attempts a heightened prose yet ends up using odd words and causing comprehension difficulties: “The town was set in a valley, and its dirty streets reflected a pale spring sun that scattered deadweight over the town. Red brick slums oozed false pride onto the entrapped town centre. Those who earned enough fled to the far-reaching countryside.” John is a flat and unlikable character, and while readers will be curious about what has caused his amnesia, they will have little affection for him personally due to his vanity and lack of empathy for others. He undergoes no Scrooge-like epiphany by the end; rather, the opinion of the author seems to be that John simply didn’t believe in himself enough (though even on this point, things aren’t clearly articulated). The lack of a compelling emotional core undermines the captivating premise, causing it all to feel like a thought exercise more than an immersive human experience. A book that clearly wants to be about something ends up being about not very much at all.

An intriguing but ultimately underwhelming architecture tale.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2019

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 218

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Jan. 17, 2020

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

ONE GOOD DEED

Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

CROOKED RIVER

FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast finds evil afoot in his latest action-filled adventure (Verses for the Dead, 2018, etc.).

Imagine Florida beachcombers’ shock when they discover a shoe with a severed foot inside. Soon they see dozens more feet, all in identical shoes, bobbing toward the beach. Police and FBI ultimately count more than a hundred of them washing up on Sanibel and Captiva Islands' tranquil shores. Pendergast teams up with the junior Special Agent Armstrong Coldmoon to investigate this strange phenomenon. Oceanographers use a supercomputer to analyze Gulf currents and attempt to determine where the feet entered the ocean. Were they dumped off a ship or an island? Does each one represent a homicide? Analysts examine chemical residues and pollen, even the angle of each foot’s amputation, but the puzzle defies all explanation. Attention focuses on Cuba, where “something terrible was happening” in front of a coastal prison, and on China, the apparent source of the shoes. The clever plot is “a most baffling case indeed” for the brilliant Pendergast, but it’s the type of problem he thrives on. He’s hardly a stereotypical FBI agent, given for example his lemon-colored silk suit, his Panama hat, and his legendary insistence on working alone—until now. Pendergast rarely blinks—perhaps, someone surmises, he’s part reptile. But equally odd is Constance Greene, his “extraordinarily beautiful,” smart, and sarcastic young “ward” who has “eyes that had seen everything and, as a result, were surprised by nothing.” Coldmoon is more down to earth: part Lakota, part Italian, and “every inch a Fed.” Add in murderous drug dealers, an intrepid newspaper reporter, coyotes crossing the U.S.–Mexico border, and a pissed-off wannabe graphic novelist, and you have a thoroughly entertaining cast of characters. There is plenty of suspense, and the action gets bloody.

Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4725-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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