The desperate and complicated political undercurrents of the late Cold War generate plenty of action; Faith is likely to be...

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RIFT ZONE

A steadily suspenseful, if sometimes sappy, Cold War thriller.

First-timer Hillhouse sets up an intriguing scenario—East Germany’s leader Erich Honecker and his Stasi allies want to assassinate Soviet chief Mikhail Gorbachev before his reforms unite the two Germanys and the Berlin wall comes down—and plays it out admirably. Faith Whitney, whose mother smuggled Bibles into the Soviet Union, is a freelance smuggler herself, picking up tchotchkes like china teacups with hammer-and-sickled–shaped handles in East Berlin to sell in the West. In April 1989, she’s blackmailed by the Stasi into helping them with a plot to assassinate Gorbachev. (Honecker speculates that he would not survive the 40 years of “repressed wrath” of the East German citizens, nor the revenge of the former Nazis still in the West German judicial system.) Zara Bogdanov, a lesbian KGB agent, kidnaps Faith and tries to turn her into a double agent, using the extra bait that she can find out about Faith’s father, who her mother has kept a mystery. Suddenly Faith is caught in the “rift zone” between two factions of communists. She’s tortured by both the Stasi and the KGB, and limps through much of the book with broken ribs. Unknown to her, she’s being set up to look like a CIA agent who assassinates Gorbachev, letting the Stasi and KGB hardliners off the hook. Faith squeezes out of various tight spots with lots of help, thanks to Hakan, a Turkish operative who’s a master at forgery; Max Summers, an Ozarks ex-boyfriend who is an explosive disposal expert, even her estranged mother, who is operating an orphanage in Moscow and is smuggling explosives to the besieged Armenian Christians in Azerbaijan. The dialogue is lousy, and Faith, who tends to tremble, seems at times as if she belongs in a romance novel (the ending is shamelessly rosy). At her best, Faith is ingenious and plucky; she knows her Semtex from her C-4, her East/West Berlin and Moscow locations, and how to maneuver without a passport. Ultimately, she outsmarts the intelligence hierarchy of three regimes.

The desperate and complicated political undercurrents of the late Cold War generate plenty of action; Faith is likely to be back.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2004

ISBN: 0-765-31013-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Forge

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2004

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Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

CROOKED RIVER

FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast finds evil afoot in his latest action-filled adventure (Verses for the Dead, 2018, etc.).

Imagine Florida beachcombers’ shock when they discover a shoe with a severed foot inside. Soon they see dozens more feet, all in identical shoes, bobbing toward the beach. Police and FBI ultimately count more than a hundred of them washing up on Sanibel and Captiva Islands' tranquil shores. Pendergast teams up with the junior Special Agent Armstrong Coldmoon to investigate this strange phenomenon. Oceanographers use a supercomputer to analyze Gulf currents and attempt to determine where the feet entered the ocean. Were they dumped off a ship or an island? Does each one represent a homicide? Analysts examine chemical residues and pollen, even the angle of each foot’s amputation, but the puzzle defies all explanation. Attention focuses on Cuba, where “something terrible was happening” in front of a coastal prison, and on China, the apparent source of the shoes. The clever plot is “a most baffling case indeed” for the brilliant Pendergast, but it’s the type of problem he thrives on. He’s hardly a stereotypical FBI agent, given for example his lemon-colored silk suit, his Panama hat, and his legendary insistence on working alone—until now. Pendergast rarely blinks—perhaps, someone surmises, he’s part reptile. But equally odd is Constance Greene, his “extraordinarily beautiful,” smart, and sarcastic young “ward” who has “eyes that had seen everything and, as a result, were surprised by nothing.” Coldmoon is more down to earth: part Lakota, part Italian, and “every inch a Fed.” Add in murderous drug dealers, an intrepid newspaper reporter, coyotes crossing the U.S.–Mexico border, and a pissed-off wannabe graphic novelist, and you have a thoroughly entertaining cast of characters. There is plenty of suspense, and the action gets bloody.

Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4725-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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