A swiftly paced novel about the human cost of environmental greed.

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Negative Buoyancy

In this debut thriller, two lake explorers discover a deadly environmental peril.

Jack Burrows is a field biologist for the McAlpine County Department of Natural Resources in Montville, California. One day, he and his friend Hank Klein, an experienced ocean diver, set out to explore the fresh waters of Wounded Horse Lake. When they get about 50 feet down, searching for noteworthy mountains or depressions on the lake bottom, they encounter an “undulating liquid surface” that reflects light. Hank believes the phenomenon to be the result of extremely cold water below unable to mix with warmer water above, so he descends through the barrier to check the temperature. Then his mask fogs up and admits some of the liquid, which burns his eye; also, his swim fins become soft, as if partially melted. When he taps his buoyancy compensation device to jet slowly upward, the button sticks, and he zooms toward the lake surface. Shortly, Jack finds that Hank has expired from the bends. When Hank’s son, Jason, arrives, Jack shares his theory about a paper mill that once operated nearby and about the toxic dumping that may have poisoned the lake decades ago. Burkhart has fashioned an ecological thriller that addresses the consequences of degrading the environment for money. Montville is portrayed as a tightknit community where nearly everyone is connected and gossip travels fast; readers learn about characters such as Gil Elkins, the dive-shop owner, in deftly written portraits and flashbacks. There’s also Jack’s environmentally passionate wife, Mary, who’s the daughter of Charlie Owens, the former owner of the aforementioned paper factory that once provided Montville jobs. Useful scientific information throughout explains carcinogens such as polychlorinated biphenyls, which “are hard to remove by natural decomposition. Once in the ground or in the water, they remain and do their mischief for many years.” Midway through, Burkhart uses an earthquake to speed his plot toward various resolutions. When justice comes for the story’s victims, it’s brutal and poetic.

A swiftly paced novel about the human cost of environmental greed.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 153

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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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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Great storytelling about the pursuit of extrajudicial justice.

ONE MINUTE OUT

Ninth in the author’s Gray Man series (Mission Critical, 2019, etc.) in which “the most elite assassin in the world” has his hands full.

Ex–CIA Agent Courtland Gentry (the Gray Man) has Serbian war criminal Ratko Babic in his gun sight, but when he decides instead to kill the old beast face to face, he uncovers a massive sex-slavery ring. “I don’t get off on this,” the Gray Man lies to the reader as he stabs a sentry. “I only kill bad people.” Of course he does. If there weren’t an endless supply of them to slay, he’d have little reason to live. Now, countless young Eastern European women are being lured into sexual slavery and fed into an international pipeline, sold worldwide through “the Consortium.” Bad guys refer to their captives as products, not people. They are “merchandise,” but their plight haunts the Gray Man, so of course he is going to rescue as many women as he can. The road to their salvation will be paved with the dead as he enlists a team of fighters to strike the enemy, which includes a South African dude who is giddy for the chance to meet and kill the Gray Man. Meanwhile, Europol analyst Talyssa Corbu meets the hero while on a personal mission to rescue her sister. “You don’t seem like a psychopath,” she tells him. Indeed, though he could play one on TV. Corbu and her sister are tough and likable characters while the director of the Consortium leads a double life as family man and flesh merchant. Human trafficking is an enormous real-life problem, so it’s satisfying to witness our larger-than-life protagonist put his combat skills to good use. There will be a sequel, of course. As a friend tells the wounded Gentry at the end, he’ll be off killing bozos again before he knows it.

Great storytelling about the pursuit of extrajudicial justice.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09891-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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