A remarkable tale that makes espionage rousing, demanding, and occasionally terrifying.

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An intelligence operative becomes the unwitting pawn of an American agency seeking vital information on a potential terrorist in this debut thriller.

The Executive Covert Agency is focused on Mihai Cuza, a dangerous man planning to discredit the Romanian government. As this likely entails terrorist activity, the ECA has an agent close to Cuza. The spy manages to send the agency a list of 15 towns around the world, each home to a nuclear power plant. Cuza is surely plotting something nefarious, but ECA agent Nikolai Ivanovich “Kolya” Petrov discovers a more immediate concern. As Cuza has unmasked several agents, there must be a leak, which Kolya narrows down to one of three people on the Intelligence Committee. ECA head Margaret Bradford wants to identify the mole but also has another scheme in the works: tricking Cuza into downloading a Trojan horse on his seemingly unhackable computer. She sends an oblivious Kolya on a standard mission, hoping that Cuza will kidnap the agent and coerce him into accessing ECA’s site (where a Trojan horse awaits). As Kolya will likely resist torture, Bradford ensures the mole somehow learns about the agent’s lawyer girlfriend, Alex Feinstein, whom Cuza subsequently abducts to use as leverage. Jonathan Egan, Kolya’s friend and frequent ECA partner, teams up with others to find his fellow agent despite an early report that Kolya has died. As Jonathan and Kolya gradually realize that Bradford has deliberately arranged the abductions, they contemplate revenge—although making sure Kolya and Alex survive their predicaments comes first.

The bulk of Manning’s espionage tale, which shifts between various perspectives, centers on individuals searching for Kolya or keeping him captive. As such, the action is minimal but striking: Kolya does not make an easy target for kidnappers, and Alex proves more than capable when it appears escape is viable. Readers will sympathize with Kolya, especially since Bradford puts him in harm’s way even after acknowledging he’s one of ECA’s best agents. Moreover, the Russian Jewish immigrant is a skilled jazz pianist who distracts himself from his harrowing experience by playing musical pieces in his head. The torture Kolya endures is unsurprisingly violent but never excessive or exceedingly graphic. Still, Cuza’s preferred method of homicide is particularly cruel and brutal. Manning thankfully describes it only once, and subsequent mentions of the act are enough to rack up the tension, as it may befall the protagonist. The story’s spies and villains are appropriately complex and unpredictable. Bradford, for example, isn’t the only one at ECA who betrays Kolya, and some aligned with Cuza don’t necessarily agree with his plan to torture the agent into submission. Some readers may question certain plot points, including that it seems every character is aware of ECA, “an agency that few knew existed,” as well as flawed technological jargon (for example, software downloaded to a computer rather than uploaded). But these are relatively minor stumbles in an otherwise bracing narrative. Though this could easily be a stand-alone novel, the engaging volume is the start of a series.

A remarkable tale that makes espionage rousing, demanding, and occasionally terrifying.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64599-102-1

Page Count: 332

Publisher: Encircle Publications, LLC

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2020


Loyal King stans may disagree, but this is a snooze.

A much-beloved author gives a favorite recurring character her own novel.

Holly Gibney made her first appearance in print with a small role in Mr. Mercedes (2014). She played a larger role in The Outsider (2018). And she was the central character in If It Bleeds, a novella in the 2020 collection of the same name. King has said that the character “stole his heart.” Readers adore her, too. One way to look at this book is as several hundred pages of fan service. King offers a lot of callbacks to these earlier works that are undoubtedly a treat for his most loyal devotees. That these easter eggs are meaningless and even befuddling to new readers might make sense in terms of costs and benefits. King isn’t exactly an author desperate to grow his audience; pleasing the people who keep him at the top of the bestseller lists is probably a smart strategy, and this writer achieved the kind of status that whatever he writes is going to be published. Having said all that, it’s possible that even his hardcore fans might find this story a bit slow. There are also issues in terms of style. Much of the language King uses and the cultural references he drops feel a bit creaky. The word slacks occurs with distracting frequency. King uses the phrase keeping it on the down-low in a way that suggests he probably doesn’t understand how this phrase is currently used—and has been used for quite a while. But the biggest problem is that this narrative is framed as a mystery without delivering the pleasures of a mystery. The reader knows who the bad guys are from the start. This can be an effective storytelling device, but in this case, waiting for the private investigator heroine to get to where the reader is at the beginning of the story feels interminable.

Loyal King stans may disagree, but this is a snooze.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2023

ISBN: 9781668016138

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2023


Lots of violent action with little payoff.

Jack Ryan Jr. is back to risk life and limb in saving a teenage girl from international killers while his father, U.S. President Jack Ryan Sr., figures out what to do with Iran’s clandestine uranium enrichment facility, hidden in a mine.

Junior, head of the secret intelligence outfit The Campus, which was functionally wiped out in Tom Clancy Flash Point (2023), is heading across Texas to a rendezvous with his fiancee, Lisanne Robertson, a one-armed former Marine and cop. He’s waylaid by the aftermath of a multi-vehicle accident that he discovers resulted from a gun attack that left a driver hanging on for life, and now puts Jack in the crosshairs of the gunmen. A tip leads him to a 4 a.m. meeting with Amanda, a single mom whose impetuous daughter, Bella, has run off with her highly undesirable boyfriend only to be abducted by the baddies. the nation’s capital, American surveillance has determined that Iran is on the cusp of nuclear armament. The only way to stop them is unleashing an unpiloted and untested super plane with massive destructive power. The book’s treatment of Iran’s “existential threat to the entire globe” as a subplot is rather curious, to say the least. You keep waiting for Bentley to connect the two stories, but that happens only superficially. Late in the book, we are told as an afterthought that Iran’s immediate threat had been “mitigated.” Unfortunately, there is no mitigation of the novel’s hackneyed prose—"The analytical portion of Jack’s brain couldn’t help but be impressed.”

Lots of violent action with little payoff.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2023

ISBN: 9780593422816

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2023

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