All the perks of a sturdy spy tale, marred by some stumbles.


The Complete Martin Forn Series


A former Interpol operative and Green Beret comes out of retirement to battle terrorists, a cult, and a Russian crime syndicate in this trilogy of thrillers.

In the opening tale, Tchaikovsky’s Egg, Martin Forn’s quiet Indiana life is threatened by his need to kill a man. The aging ex-soldier and Interpol contractor may get his chance when KGB agents show up at his home. The Puravich Crime Syndicate is looking for a traitor—Martin’s wife, Clara Puravich, who, it seems, skipped town. Soon thereafter, someone abducts his daughter Sara’s boyfriend, Johnny Corn-Walters. Since he’s the last living son of Tenskwatawa the Shawnee Prophet, Johnny’s kidnapping comes with a hefty ransom demand. This could be the repercussions of a tribal war or a move by the local Starology cult, but it becomes personal for Martin when abductees include Sara and his son, Elias. In The Price of Peace, a reactivated Martin takes an Interpol contract to pay back expensive intelligence he acquired while searching for his children. He also has the opportunity to get revenge for a fellow soldier killed in action, while Johnny and Sara join Interpol to try to rid Indiana of the Puravich Syndicate’s continued presence. Later, an interest in the Assyrian Plague, a terrorist group, sends Martin and Johnny overseas in The Pale Horse Returned, hoping for proof of the Plague’s “ongoing genocide.” Wilk’s (The Last Heroes Before Judgement, 2016) nicely paced series delivers its fair share of action. Martin’s kept on his toes, for example, by the first story’s overload of agencies, from the CIA to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. And he’s a tailor-made spy, with Clara asserting that contract killing for Martin is a “vacation.” The book’s unfortunately impeded by a baffling structure. Ever shifting, first-person perspective between Martin and Johnny, for starters, becomes hard to track, with no indications of change. Dialogue, too, never has an identified speaker; Wilk shrewdly ensures clarity with oft-uttered names, but that doesn’t make transitioning between narrators any easier. Grammatical and spelling mistakes are likewise distracting (for example, a person’s contacts that “wreak of international espionage”). Notwithstanding, Wilk skillfully ties the stories together with consistent characters and an overarching theme of family versus the life of an operative.

All the perks of a sturdy spy tale, marred by some stumbles.

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5371-8308-4

Page Count: 362

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2016

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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