Trouble follows the protagonist everywhere he goes—and so should readers; each new tale’s as gripping as the last.

The Medinandi License

From the Trace Brandon series , Vol. 4

The fifth book in Reneau’s (Legend of War Creek, 2015, etc.) thriller series finds returning American geologist Trace Brandon facing off against terrorists in a politically restless West African country.

Trace is looking for a fresh start, having just lost someone he loved. Mali, where he can explore a gold concession with pal Gordon Watson, is as good a place as any. But unpleasantness may be on the horizon: Gordon’s leasing exploration rights from a company controlled by the furtive Gen. Timerov, head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service. At the same time, people like Oliver Olgetree, the U.S. ambassador to Mali, warn Trace of potential problems, from an arms dealer that the Saudis are gunning for to venomous scorpions and camel spiders. And this is before Gordon and Trace even have drilling equipment in the country. The biggest threat, as it turns out, may be al-Qaida, whose local members have taken shots at the crew’s plane and who’s most likely responsible for an assassination attempt against Trace. The geologist gets a helping hand from attorney/business partner Will Coffee and, surprisingly, Babba Dia, said arms dealer, who outfits the men with much-needed Uzis, and Humphrey Bogart–look-alike pilot Jean-Claude Renaud. But when al-Qaida kidnaps a friend, Trace will have to decide whether to pay the ransom or organize a rescue mission. Though the story’s brimming with obstacles for the protagonist, it’s the menacing atmosphere that proves most indelible. Military coups, for example, are common in West Africa—there’s an ever present chance of Trace and others finding themselves in danger of having operations in Mali interrupted or stopped altogether. More ominous but just as unsettling are giant fruit bats that seem to gather outside of Trace’s hotel room window. When not ducking bullets or missiles, the geologist dabbles in romance with Molly Wainwright; hasty love declarations are a little hard to believe, but U.S. Peace Corps supervisor Molly is an exceptional character. As in preceding books, Reneau’s laconic writing style is laced with humor, like cloud tendrils from an imminent storm equated with “the tentacles of a very pissed-off octopus.”

Trouble follows the protagonist everywhere he goes—and so should readers; each new tale’s as gripping as the last.

Pub Date: April 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5119-5649-9

Page Count: 316

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2016

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

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THE INSTITUTE

The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie.

Tim Jamieson is a man emphatically not in a hurry. As King’s (The Outsider, 2018, etc.) latest opens, he’s bargaining with a flight attendant to sell his seat on an overbooked run from Tampa to New York. His pockets full, he sticks out his thumb and winds up in the backwater South Carolina town of DuPray (should we hear echoes of “pray”? Or “depraved”?). Turns out he’s a decorated cop, good at his job and at reading others (“You ought to go see Doc Roper,” he tells a local. “There are pills that will brighten your attitude”). Shift the scene to Minneapolis, where young Luke Ellis, precociously brilliant, has been kidnapped by a crack extraction team, his parents brutally murdered so that it looks as if he did it. Luke is spirited off to Maine—this is King, so it’s got to be Maine—and a secret shadow-government lab where similarly conscripted paranormally blessed kids, psychokinetic and telepathic, are made to endure the Skinnerian pain-and-reward methods of the evil Mrs. Sigsby. How to bring the stories of Tim and Luke together? King has never minded detours into the unlikely, but for this one, disbelief must be extra-willingly suspended. In the end, their forces joined, the two and their redneck allies battle the sophisticated secret agents of The Institute in a bloodbath of flying bullets and beams of mental energy (“You’re in the south now, Annie had told these gunned-up interlopers. She had an idea they were about to find out just how true that was"). It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps.

King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-1056-7

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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