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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If novelists are auditioning to play God, Hilderbrand gets the part.

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GOLDEN GIRL

From the greenroom of the afterlife—make that Benjamin Moore "Parsley Snips" green—a newly dead Nantucket novelist watches life unfold without her.

In her 27th novel, Hilderbrand gives herself an alter ego—beloved beach-novel author Vivian Howe—sends her out for a morning jog, and immediately kills her off. A hit-and-run driver leaves Vivi dead by the side of the road, where her son's best friend discovers her body—or was he responsible for the accident? Vivi doesn't know, nor does she know yet that her daughter Willa is pregnant, or that her daughter Carson is having a terribly ill-advised affair, or that her son, Leo, has a gnawing secret, or that her ex is getting tired of the girl he dumped her for. She will discover all this and more as she watches one last summer on Nantucket play out under the tutelage of Martha, her "Person," who receives her in the boho-chic waiting room of the Beyond. Hermès-scarved Martha explains that Vivi will have three nudges—three chances to change the course of events on Earth and prevent her bereaved loved ones from making life-altering mistakes. She will also get to watch the publication of what will be her last novel, titled Golden Girl, natch, and learn the answers to two questions: Will the secret about her own life she buried in this novel come to light (who cares, really—she's dead now), and will it hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list (now there's an interesting question). She'll also get to see that one of her biggest wrongs is posthumously righted and that her kids have learned her most important lesson. As Willa says to Carson, "You know how she treats the characters in her books? She gives them flaws, she portrays them doing horrible things—but the reader loves them anyway. Because Mom loves them. Because they’re human.”

If novelists are auditioning to play God, Hilderbrand gets the part.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-31642008-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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Eerie atmosphere isn’t enough to overcome an unsatisfying plot and sometimes-exasperating protagonist.

THE MAIDENS

A blend of psychological mystery and gothic thriller puts a psychotherapist in pursuit of a serial killer on the campus of Cambridge University.

The author’s second novel features a psychotherapist as its main character, as did his 2019 debut, The Silent Patient (whose main character makes an appearance here). This book’s protagonist is Mariana, who has a busy practice in London specializing in group therapy. At 36, she’s a widow, reeling from the drowning a year before of her beloved husband, Sebastian. She’s galvanized out of her fog by a call from her niece, Zoe, who was raised by Mariana and Sebastian after her parents died. Zoe is now studying at Cambridge, where Mariana and Sebastian met and courted. Zoe has terrible news: Her close friend Tara has been murdered, savagely stabbed and dumped in a wood. Mariana heads for Cambridge and, when the police arrest someone she thinks is innocent, starts her own investigation. She zeroes in on Edward Fosca, a handsome, charismatic classics professor who has a cultlike following of beautiful female students (which included Tara) called the Maidens, a reference to the cult of Eleusis in ancient Greece, whose followers worshipped Demeter and Persephone. Suspicious characters seem to be around every ivy-covered corner of the campus, though—an audacious young man Mariana meets on the train, one of her patients who has turned stalker, a porter at one of the college’s venerable houses, even the surly police inspector. The book gets off to a slow start, front-loaded with backstories and a Cambridge travelogue, but then picks up the pace and piles up the bodies. With its ambience of ritualistic murders, ancient myths, and the venerable college, the story is a gothic thriller despite its contemporary setting. That makes Mariana tough to get on board with—she behaves less like a modern professional woman than a 19th-century gothic heroine, a clueless woman who can be counted on in any situation to make the worst possible choice. And the book’s ending, while surprising, also feels unearned, like a bolt from the blue hurled by some demigod.

Eerie atmosphere isn’t enough to overcome an unsatisfying plot and sometimes-exasperating protagonist.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-30445-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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