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

THE PORTABLE NINE

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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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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