The FBI’s bots are a great premise for a series. Just keep those suckers away from Putin.

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BURN-IN

A NOVEL OF THE REAL ROBOTIC REVOLUTION

A near-future SF thriller starring an FBI agent and one damn smart robot.

Turmoil threatens the United States due to the “collision between an evolutionary species and a revolutionary technology.” Nearly a million aggrieved vets march on Washington, D.C., and set up a digital blockade against the police. Then the FBI assigns Special Agent Lara Keegan to a robot called a Tactical Autonomous Mobility System to perform a “burn-in,” a field test under real-life situations. TAMS is a highly intelligent “learning system” whose job is to help Keegan. Her job is to teach the bot human interaction skills through daily experience. By now, bots are so common that many in society are fearful. “It is not human jobs that are at risk from the rise of the robots,” says a man nicknamed Moses. “It is humanity itself.” But the FBI sees TAMS as always subordinate to the human—“man before machine,” says Keegan’s boss. “Woman,” she replies. Keegan and TAMS work together brilliantly, although her husband warns that the bot will learn more than she wants it to. “One massive sensor,” TAMS is a quick study, whether assessing a crowd threat, picking up on Keegan’s emotions, even playing Sesame Street songs for her young daughter, Haley. Yet it’s “not just some servile knee-high domo,” but “a machine with a mission.” In some ways this is a typical thriller with a tsunami on the Potomac River and other twists of fortune that eventually land the good guys just where they should land. There are lots of clever details, like vizglasses that transmit what people see to a computer, “frozen synth shrimp from Tennessee,” and “freegans…living off a dying society’s leftovers.” With the success of this bot, many copies will follow, all learning quickly, all subordinate to their humans.

The FBI’s bots are a great premise for a series. Just keep those suckers away from Putin.

Pub Date: May 26, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-328-63723-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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Now that Coben’s added politics to his heady brew, expect sex and religion to join the mix.

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THE BOY FROM THE WOODS

Coben’s latest darkest-suburbs thriller sets a decidedly offbeat detective on the trail of a crime with overtones unmistakably redolent of once and future presidential elections.

Wilde is called Wilde because nobody’s known his real name from the moment a pair of hikers found him foraging for himself in Ramapo Mountain State Forest 24 years ago. Now over 40, he’s had experience as both a lost boy and a private investigator. That makes him an obvious person to help when his godson, Sweet Water High School student Matthew Crimstein, expresses concern to his grandmother, attorney Hester Crimstein, that his bullied classmate Naomi Pine has gone missing. Matthew doesn’t really want anyone to help. He doesn’t even want anyone to notice his agitation. But Hester, taking the time from her criminal defense of financial consultant Simon Greene (Run Away, 2019) to worm the details out of him, asks Wilde to lend a hand, and sure enough, Wilde, unearthing an unsavory backstory that links Naomi to bullying classmate Crash Maynard, whose TV producer father, Dash Maynard, is close friends with reality TV star–turned–presidential hopeful Rusty Eggers, finds Naomi hale and hearty. Everything’s hunky-dory for one week, and then she disappears again. And this time, so does Crash after a brief visit to Matthew in which he tearfully confesses his guilt about the bad stuff he did to Naomi. This second disappearance veers into more obviously criminal territory with the arrival of a ransom note that demands, not money, but the allegedly incriminating videotapes of Rusty Eggers that Dash and Delia Maynard have had squirreled away for 30 years. The tapes link Rusty to a forgotten and forgettable homicide and add a paranoid new ripped-from-the-headlines dimension to the author’s formidable range. Readers who can tune out all the subplots will find the kidnappers easy to spot, but Coben finds room for three climactic surprises, one of them a honey.

Now that Coben’s added politics to his heady brew, expect sex and religion to join the mix.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4814-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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