A dark redemption tale, but not one for the faint of heart.

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DON'T MEAN NUTHIN'

As his long-dormant conscience slowly revives, a Black Ops assassin wrestles with his role as a pawn in the Vietnam War in Lealos’ (Pashtun, 2014, etc.) powerful novel.

In 1969, Frank Morgan is an American assassin in Vietnam known as “the Night Snake.” He receives his orders from an agency, Phoenix, that doesn’t officially exist, is answerable to no one, and funds itself in part with money from drugs, prostitution and the sale of orphans. Morgan fits right into this world, however, as he was brought up by a father he calls “the Colonel,” a militaristic lunatic who always raised him to be a soldier. At first, Morgan has little problem with taking part in dubious operations for the greater glory of the United States, although he does have nightmares that he beats back with drugs and drink. But when he kills Liem Tran, a Sorbonne-educated woman with striking green eyes, it particularly affects him, even though Phoenix says that she’s a top Viet Cong cadre chief. When he learns that the mission was actually revenge for Tran’s refusal to sleep with a South Vietnamese official—and that most of his other assignments may be equally bogus—Morgan goes rogue, killing people he’s not assigned to terminate while letting other targets go free. Lealos presents Vietnam as a Dantean landscape from which no one ever really returns, not even the survivors. He underscores its futility through Morgan’s cynical, first-person Mickey Spillane–speak, which draws every comparison by using words of war (“The only noise the M79 thumper in my chest”; “The sound was like snapping my M16 to full auto”; “The kiss lasted longer than it took between hearing the hushed thud of a mortar tube and the impact”). Overall, it’s a gut-wrenchingly realistic portrayal of how violence, politics and corruption combine to destroy the souls of people and countries.

A dark redemption tale, but not one for the faint of heart.

Pub Date: Dec. 12, 2008

ISBN: 978-1629145723

Page Count: 324

Publisher: BookSurge Publishing

Review Posted Online: Aug. 25, 2014

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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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