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THE PORTABLE NINE

A creatively conceived, over-the-top thriller with plenty of room for more delicious treachery.

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A reinvigorated gang of nine fearless yet curiously likable villains springs into action.

Mesling’s rousing thriller features a clever hit man named Davenport, known in underworld arenas as the “Mad Marksman of Malta.” Readers first meet Davenport in Florence, Italy, hard at work discreetly vanquishing international cargo negotiator Max Brindle. But this time, a rare mechanical malfunction occurs, and the hit on Brindle is botched, which sets in motion a series of deadly revenge plots. Meanwhile, crime syndicate figurehead Black Phantom, believing Brindle to be slaughtered, makes Davenport his target in a retaliation scheme that threatens the hit man’s family and ignites a vicious battle between the two men. In order to arm himself to the fullest extent, Davenport contacts a bevy of slick, vicious evildoers who are part of a group known as “The Portable Nine.” All of them exhibit unique monikers and lethal specialties. With the formation of this team of lawless underdogs, the author’s multifaceted story shifts into high gear. Chapter by chapter, Davenport’s deadly band is individually unveiled, each with distinctive details and personality quirks that keep the action popping and readers turning pages; there is nary a dull moment in this novel. These warriors, though most “likely to be out of shape and out of practice,” are urgently summoned after years apart and recruited back into action from the comfort of hiding places ranging from Los Angeles and the Midwest to the Australian Outback.

In this top-notch tale, Mesling takes great care to ensure the group is comprised of a formidable lot: not the average “workaday thug and cookie-cutter hit man” but a posse of “outcasts, criminals, egotists, and lunatics” sharing a unifying code of ethics. When gathered together, they form “a country unto themselves.” Alongside kingpin Davenport, the Nine include the hatchet-brandishing Butcher; fidgety Twitch Markham; the intimidating, business-minded Robin Varnesse; and brutal Chicagoan Miranda Gissing, a fierce fighter. They are joined by cunning former porn actress Lovinia Dulcet, who brandishes two Japanese steel skewers as her “Twin Delights” weapons of choice; Australian motorcyclist and macho man Abel Hazard, who surgically removed the fear center from his brain in order to become an audacious killer; and sightless Mr. Bonnet and his integral psychiatrist sidekick, Dr. Intaglio, who are sketchy spies for the Black Phantom and rejoin the others to infiltrate and leak intelligence. All fearless and mercilessly primed, the group is assembled by Davenport to help him put an end to the Black Phantom’s revenge plot to capture and exterminate the Nine (and a larger, associated terrorist scheme as well). Electronic trackers, blow darts, and a desert showdown provide the riveting conclusion while leaving the door ajar for further adventures now that the team has regrouped and dusted off its talents. The author keeps all his characters spinning, though some naturally dominate, right through the rather rushed but satisfying ending.

A creatively conceived, over-the-top thriller with plenty of room for more delicious treachery.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-57-873256-5

Page Count: 299

Publisher: Other Kingdoms Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2021

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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JAMES

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as told from the perspective of a more resourceful and contemplative Jim than the one you remember.

This isn’t the first novel to reimagine Twain’s 1885 masterpiece, but the audacious and prolific Everett dives into the very heart of Twain’s epochal odyssey, shifting the central viewpoint from that of the unschooled, often credulous, but basically good-hearted Huck to the more enigmatic and heroic Jim, the Black slave with whom the boy escapes via raft on the Mississippi River. As in the original, the threat of Jim’s being sold “down the river” and separated from his wife and daughter compels him to run away while figuring out what to do next. He's soon joined by Huck, who has faked his own death to get away from an abusive father, ramping up Jim’s panic. “Huck was supposedly murdered and I’d just run away,” Jim thinks. “Who did I think they would suspect of the heinous crime?” That Jim can, as he puts it, “[do] the math” on his predicament suggests how different Everett’s version is from Twain’s. First and foremost, there's the matter of the Black dialect Twain used to depict the speech of Jim and other Black characters—which, for many contemporary readers, hinders their enjoyment of his novel. In Everett’s telling, the dialect is a put-on, a manner of concealment, and a tactic for survival. “White folks expect us to sound a certain way and it can only help if we don’t disappoint them,” Jim explains. He also discloses that, in violation of custom and law, he learned to read the books in Judge Thatcher’s library, including Voltaire and John Locke, both of whom, in dreams and delirium, Jim finds himself debating about human rights and his own humanity. With and without Huck, Jim undergoes dangerous tribulations and hairbreadth escapes in an antebellum wilderness that’s much grimmer and bloodier than Twain’s. There’s also a revelation toward the end that, however stunning to devoted readers of the original, makes perfect sense.

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Pub Date: March 19, 2024

ISBN: 9780385550369

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2024

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