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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Fast-paced fun that’s fraught with peril. The Bells are such a nice couple.

THE SABOTEURS

Malign forces want to slow completion of the Panama Canal, but Isaac Bell has plenty to say about that in his 12th tale of derring-do.

In 1914, the U.S. is digging an enormous ditch across the mosquito-infested isthmus of Panama, with “mechanical dragons wreathed in steam” ripping out eight tons at a time in the Culebra Cut. Horrific incidents happen, and they’re not always accidents. A mysterious terrorist group called Viboras Rojas, or Red Vipers, seems responsible for an explosion that kills dozens and delays the canal’s construction. Isaac Bell of the Van Dorn Detective Agency is sent there to investigate, and a team of wild horses wouldn’t keep his wife, Marion, from coming along. Bell keeps mighty busy. Within days, he’s “thwarted an assassination attempt and brought a mad bomber to heel,” and he’s just getting started. The detective is exceptionally observant and ingenious. How he survives a catastrophic landslide is such a combination of quick thinking and luck that readers will hold their breath as they turn the pages, only realizing later how unlikely it all is. Meanwhile, Germany conspires with Argentina to severely delay the canal’s opening—Argentina would lose plenty of oceangoing commerce, and as it girds for war in Europe, Germany fears America’s rise as a global power. The proximate villain is Otto Dreissen, who correctly believes that former President Teddy Roosevelt won’t be able to resist traveling to see “the most transformative engineering feat in history…dangers be damned”—and there is danger, since the kaiser has authorized Roosevelt's assassination. But first Dreissen must arrange an “accident” for Bell, the “man with the nine lives of a cat.” Poor Otto. He should know it’s not that easy to kill off a series hero. Nor a series hero’s wife, even when she’s dangling from a dirigible. A bonus tip to readers: Stay away from manchineel trees and superheated steam.

Fast-paced fun that’s fraught with peril. The Bells are such a nice couple.

Pub Date: May 25, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-19122-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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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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