Neither Edward’s existential struggle nor the tracking of the robbers are suspenseful enough to keep our interest.

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BLOOD MEN

Dad is a serial killer. Can his son avoid the same fate? That’s the question posed by New Zealander Cleave in his exceptionally gory fourth novel (Cemetery Lake, 2009, etc.).

When Edward Hunter was nine, he killed a neighbor’s dog, feeding it a steak embedded with nails. One thing led to another, and in short order his father Jack was charged with the murders of 11 prostitutes. After his life sentence, Edward’s mother committed suicide and his big sister overdosed on heroin. That was 20 years ago. Now Edward is an accountant, a model citizen devoted to wife Jodie and six-year-old daughter Sam. He and Jodie are at the bank when it’s held up by six armed robbers. This happens in Christchurch, New Zealand, during Christmas Week, the season of goodwill; if you missed the irony, don’t worry, you’ll get constant reminders. Edward confronts the robbers, verbally, and Jodie is shot dead. Edward emotes too much for the protagonist of an action story, but then an inner voice kicks in, the same voice he heard as a child dog-killer. He visits Jack in prison; father tells son that he heard the same voice each time he killed, that it wants blood, that they’re both “blood men.” Go ahead, says Jack; listen to the voice; avenge Jodie. To get him started, he gives his boy one of the robbers’ names. Edward goes to work, the cops always one step behind. He’ll cause several gruesome deaths, some in self-defense; his daughter Sam will be kidnapped; he’ll spring his old man, who’ll make up for lost time by resuming his own killing spree. Cleave’s assembly-line prose, with its American veneer, becomes numbing; characterization is minimal; there’s blood everywhere. The author has some tricks up his sleeve at the end, but they will antagonize the few readers left in his corner.

Neither Edward’s existential struggle nor the tracking of the robbers are suspenseful enough to keep our interest.

Pub Date: July 20, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4391-8961-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2010

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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 about the pursuit of extrajudicial justice.

ONE MINUTE OUT

Ninth in the author’s Gray Man series (Mission Critical, 2019, etc.) in which “the most elite assassin in the world” has his hands full.

Ex–CIA Agent Courtland Gentry (the Gray Man) has Serbian war criminal Ratko Babic in his gun sight, but when he decides instead to kill the old beast face to face, he uncovers a massive sex-slavery ring. “I don’t get off on this,” the Gray Man lies to the reader as he stabs a sentry. “I only kill bad people.” Of course he does. If there weren’t an endless supply of them to slay, he’d have little reason to live. Now, countless young Eastern European women are being lured into sexual slavery and fed into an international pipeline, sold worldwide through “the Consortium.” Bad guys refer to their captives as products, not people. They are “merchandise,” but their plight haunts the Gray Man, so of course he is going to rescue as many women as he can. The road to their salvation will be paved with the dead as he enlists a team of fighters to strike the enemy, which includes a South African dude who is giddy for the chance to meet and kill the Gray Man. Meanwhile, Europol analyst Talyssa Corbu meets the hero while on a personal mission to rescue her sister. “You don’t seem like a psychopath,” she tells him. Indeed, though he could play one on TV. Corbu and her sister are tough and likable characters while the director of the Consortium leads a double life as family man and flesh merchant. Human trafficking is an enormous real-life problem, so it’s satisfying to witness our larger-than-life protagonist put his combat skills to good use. There will be a sequel, of course. As a friend tells the wounded Gentry at the end, he’ll be off killing bozos again before he knows it.

Great storytelling about the pursuit of extrajudicial justice.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09891-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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