Fans of cybernoir should enjoy this futuristic murder mystery—two (augmented) thumbs up.

SOUL CACHE

Set in near-future Hong Kong, this novella fuses elements of police procedurals, crime thrillers, and SF tales.

Chronicling an aging homicide detective’s quest to apprehend a serial killer before the investigator retires (or is fired), the story begins with Zeki Pemburu, who is tasked with solving multiple murders in which the victims’ bodies have been ritualistically dismembered and rearranged. All of the killings have occurred in Lower New Kowloon, essentially the dark underbelly of a prosperous city where very little sunlight, money, or opportunities trickle down to the area’s impoverished inhabitants. With pressure mounting from his boss to stop the killer—and to use the cutting-edge technology that the department has embraced (cybernetic modifications and drones)—Pemburu decides instead to use highly illegal tech to identify the murderer. By accessing a recently deceased person’s neural chip, the detective can experience the victim’s last moments—but in doing so, he risks insanity or worse. While Pemburu is little more than a crime fiction stereotype, this narrative works in large part because of Todoroff’s exceptional worldbuilding and the story’s powerful thematic punch. The author’s focus on creating a rich and meticulously described setting makes for an undeniably immersive reading experience: Pemburu “stepped out of the alley into a torrent of people and traffic, all surging through a neon-bright canyon cliffed in steel and smartglass. Celebrities smiled down at the masses, endorsing hot ware that could sync and sex up anyone to be just like them. Holograms swam in a smog of bio-diesel and steam, spiced with curry and hot peanut oil, all buoyed on a hurricane of sound.” And for such a short work, Todoroff insightfully explores profound themes, namely technology’s influence on humankind and the power (or lack thereof) of faith: Pemburu “told her religion was an appendix, a vestigial organ from when humans tried to swallow the indigestible.”

Fans of cybernoir should enjoy this futuristic murder mystery—two (augmented) thumbs up.

Pub Date: Dec. 17, 2021

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 94

Publisher: Kindle Direct Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2022

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Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

THE LIONESS

An actress and her entourage are kidnapped by Russians in Bohjalian’s uneven thriller.

In 1964, Hollywood’s gossip rags are agog as movie star Katie Barstow marries gallerist David Hill and takes her inner circle along on her honeymoon. And an adventuresome honeymoon it is—on safari in the Serengeti with aging big-game hunter Charlie Patton, who once helped Hemingway bag trophies. But Katie is not the star of this ensemble piece. The populous cast—a who’s who at the beginning is indispensable—includes Katie’s publicist, Reggie Stout; her agent, Peter Merrick; her best friend, Carmen Tedesco, a supporting actress who plays wisecracking sidekicks; and Terrance Dutton, Katie's recent co-star, a Black actor who's challenging Sidney Poitier's singularity in Hollywood. With obvious nods to Hemingway’s worst fear—masculine cowardice—Bohjalian adds in Felix Demeter, Carmen’s husband, a B-list screenwriter who reminds his wife of Hemingway’s weakling Francis Macomber. Felix seems a superfluous double of David, who feels inadequate because Katie is the breadwinner and his father is CIA. Then there’s Katie’s older brother, Billy Stepanov, whose abuse at the hands of their mother shaped the psychologist he is today; Billy’s pregnant wife, Margie; and Benjamin Kikwete, an apprentice safari guide. Thus, a proliferation of voices whose competing perspectives fragment rather than advance the story. The kidnapping plot seems less designed to test each character’s mettle than to exercise Bohjalian’s predilection for minute descriptions of gore. The most heartfelt portrayal here is of the Serengeti and its flora and fauna, but none of the human characters net enough face time to transcend their typecasting. The motives behind the kidnapping might have lent intrigue to the proceedings, but foreshadowing is so slight that the infodump explainer at the end leaves us shocked, mostly at how haphazard the plot is.

Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54482-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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Generations may succeed generations, but Sandford’s patented investigation/action formula hasn’t aged a whit. Bring it on.

THE INVESTIGATOR

A domestic-terrorist plot gives the adopted daughter of storied U.S. Marshal Lucas Davenport her moment to shine.

Veteran oilman Vermilion Wright knows that losing a few thousand gallons of crude is no more than an accounting error to his company but could mean serious money to whomever’s found a way to siphon it off from wells in Texas’ Permian Basin. So he asks Sen. Christopher Colles, Chair of Homeland Security and Government Affairs, to look into it, and Colles persuades 24-year-old Letty Davenport, who’s just quit his employ, to return and partner with Department of Homeland Security agent John Kaiser to track down the thieves. The plot that right-winger Jane Jael Hawkes and her confederates, most of them service veterans with disgruntled attitudes and excellent military skills, have hatched is more dire than anything Wright could have imagined. They plan to use the proceeds from the oil thefts to purchase some black-market C4 essential to a major act of terrorism that will simultaneously express their alarm about the country’s hospitality to illegal immigrants and put the Jael-Birds on the map for good. But they haven’t reckoned with Letty, another kid born on the wrong side of the tracks who can outshoot the men she’s paired with and outthink the vigilantes she finds herself facing—and who, along with her adoptive father, makes a memorable pair of “pragmatists. Really harsh pragmatists” willing to do whatever needs doing without batting an eye or losing a night’s sleep afterward.

Generations may succeed generations, but Sandford’s patented investigation/action formula hasn’t aged a whit. Bring it on.

Pub Date: April 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-32868-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2022

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