A taut, engrossing tale about spies and their dangerous webs of duplicity.

THE ALGERIAN HOAX

An MI6 operative finds himself suspected of treason in this latest installment of an espionage series.

MI6 looks to Michael Vaux, a seasoned agency veteran and retired journalist, for a freelance assignment. Operation Mascara puts Vaux in Marseille, France, where a terrorist cell is reputedly plotting to bomb a mosque that’s under construction in Algiers. He is awaiting contact from a mole within the cell. But unbeknown to Vaux, Department B3, an MI6 subgroup, has him under a “dark cloud of suspicion.” According to a source known as Tarboosh, Vaux is responsible for copious treasonous acts over a roughly 20-year period with MI6. B3 monitors him in Marseille with the hope that agents will uncover evidence of Vaux’s supposed alliance with the Syrian government. Complicating matters is B3’s deputy director, Alan Craw, who has a personal vendetta against Vaux and would be all too happy to see him imprisoned as a traitor. But Vaux has allies who are aware of what’s happening and feel obliged to warn him of a potential setup. He may have to decide between facing his accusers and simply disappearing. Croft wisely retains a straightforward plot as myriad characters and their mysterious or dubious allegiances propel the absorbing story. The recurring spy is appealing even if he’s oblivious to much of what’s going on. This does nevertheless amp up the tension, as readers know people are unquestionably gunning for Vaux. Chiseled prose engenders a consistent narrative momentum while occasionally lingering on quieter moments: “All regrets…dissipated into a benign cloud of well-being and, yes, optimism,” as Syria’s longtime honorary consul in Marseille “gazed through the large picture windows at the indigo blue of the becalmed Mediterranean.” The novel ends smashingly with a sharp, unexpected turn.

A taut, engrossing tale about spies and their dangerous webs of duplicity.

Pub Date: July 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4808-9190-6

Page Count: 206

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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Illustrates how rough justice can get when religion and institutional sexism are in the mix.

HOUR OF THE WITCH

A Puritan wife shocks her community and risks her life to file for divorce in 1662 Boston.

For more than five years, Mary, age 24, has been married to Thomas, 45, a prosperous miller. Thomas has been physically and sexually abusive, always taking care that there are no witnesses. He castigates Mary’s intelligence, telling her she has “white meat” for brains. The marriage is childless, drawing community suspicion to Mary. When she can’t hide bruises on her face, she lies about their provenance. The behavior, she tells herself, only occurs when Thomas is “drink-drunk.” The coverup continues until, cold sober, Thomas drives a fork into Mary’s hand, breaking bones. She flees to her parents’ home and files for divorce, which is allowed but only if grounds can be proven. Forks are a major motif: Not merely newfangled “cutlery” which Mary’s father, a shipping entrepreneur, hopes to profit from importing, but miniature pitchforks viewed by the Puritans as “Devil’s tines.” The forks, as well as other clues—a mysterious pestle, a pentagram etched on a door frame—are used to counter Mary’s compelling, but unwitnessed, claims of cruelty with insinuations of witchcraft. Divorce denied, Mary must return to the marital home and resort to ever more drastic expedients in her quest for freedom. Mary comes from privilege, and her parents clearly care about her. (Unlike the divorce magistrates, they don’t believe she injured her hand by falling on a tea kettle spout.) That they allow her return to Thomas to avoid witchcraft charges defies plausibility—death at Thomas’ hands seems a more immediate prospect, and her family wealth affords many other options. The charges come anyway—timed for maximum melodrama. The language, salted liberally with thee and thou, feels period-authentic. The colonists’ impact on nearby Native tribes is not Bohjalian’s primary concern here, but the Hobson’s choice facing women in Puritan society is starkly delineated.

Illustrates how rough justice can get when religion and institutional sexism are in the mix.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-385-54243-2

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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Crave chills and thrills but don’t have time for a King epic? This will do the job before bedtime. Not that you’ll sleep.

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LATER

Horrormeister King follows a boy’s journey from childhood to adolescence among the dead—and their even creepier living counterparts.

Jamie Conklin sees dead people. Not for very long—they fade away after a week or so—but during that time he can talk to them, ask them questions, and compel them to answer truthfully. His uncanny gift at first seems utterly unrelated to his mother Tia’s work as a literary agent, but the links become disturbingly clear when her star client, Regis Thomas, dies shortly after starting work on the newest entry in his bestselling Roanoke Saga, and Tia and her lover, NYPD Detective Liz Dutton, drive Jamie out to Cobblestone Cottage to encourage the late author to dictate an outline of his latest page-turner so that Tia, who’s fallen on hard times, can write it in his name instead of returning his advance and her cut. Now that she’s seen what Jamie can do, Liz takes it on herself to arrange an interview in which Jamie will ask Kenneth Therriault, a serial bomber who’s just killed himself, where he’s stowed his latest explosive device before it can explode posthumously. His post-mortem encounter with Therriault exacts a high price on Jamie, who now finds himself more haunted than ever, though he never gives up on the everyday experiences in which King roots all his nightmares.

Crave chills and thrills but don’t have time for a King epic? This will do the job before bedtime. Not that you’ll sleep.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-7890-9649-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Hard Case Crime

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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