A solid thriller that leaves you thinking it could have been much better.

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THE HOPE VENDETTA

On the brink of suicide following his wife's death, one-time British special-forces operative Ben Hope is intent on putting his violent past behind him and studying religion at Oxford. But when a family friend's daughter, a renowned biblical archaeologist, goes missing in Greece—and the young friend Ben sent to find her is killed in a bombing—Ben is forced to dust off his killing skills and spring back into action.

The stakes are big in Mariani's second Hope novel (The Mozart Conspiracy, 2011). Zoë Bradbury is abducted because she says she discovered an artifact that exposes as false the Book of Revelation and its ultimate promise of Rapture. This rankles an international conspiracy bent on using Revelation to orchestrate the destruction of Israel by Islamic forces. The discovery also upsets the plans of Clayton Cleaver, a popular TV evangelist in Georgia who has based his political hopes on the prophecies. Frustrated by Zoë's amnesia, caused by a head injury, her abductors threaten to inject her with a newly invented truth serum that will reduce her to psychotic rubble. Ben's pursuits take him to Savannah, where he learns that Zoë, an Amy Winehouse–like party girl, was blackmailing Cleaver. Rendered unconscious by the bad guys, Hope wakes up in Montana, where he has relatively little trouble dispatching the bad guys with the help of a smitten female CIA agent. The story takes us, finally, to Jerusalem, where Hope must thwart plans to blow up the Dome of the Rock. Mariani constructs the thriller with skill and intelligence, staging some good action scenes, and Hope is an appealing protagonist. However, the book's premise is undercooked. There's little threat of worldwide upheaval, or much of a threat to the principals. The book might well have been better off eschewing its Dan Brown Da Vincisms and turning up the tension on the more grounded elements of the story.

A solid thriller that leaves you thinking it could have been much better.

Pub Date: March 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4391-9347-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

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Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

CROOKED RIVER

FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast finds evil afoot in his latest action-filled adventure (Verses for the Dead, 2018, etc.).

Imagine Florida beachcombers’ shock when they discover a shoe with a severed foot inside. Soon they see dozens more feet, all in identical shoes, bobbing toward the beach. Police and FBI ultimately count more than a hundred of them washing up on Sanibel and Captiva Islands' tranquil shores. Pendergast teams up with the junior Special Agent Armstrong Coldmoon to investigate this strange phenomenon. Oceanographers use a supercomputer to analyze Gulf currents and attempt to determine where the feet entered the ocean. Were they dumped off a ship or an island? Does each one represent a homicide? Analysts examine chemical residues and pollen, even the angle of each foot’s amputation, but the puzzle defies all explanation. Attention focuses on Cuba, where “something terrible was happening” in front of a coastal prison, and on China, the apparent source of the shoes. The clever plot is “a most baffling case indeed” for the brilliant Pendergast, but it’s the type of problem he thrives on. He’s hardly a stereotypical FBI agent, given for example his lemon-colored silk suit, his Panama hat, and his legendary insistence on working alone—until now. Pendergast rarely blinks—perhaps, someone surmises, he’s part reptile. But equally odd is Constance Greene, his “extraordinarily beautiful,” smart, and sarcastic young “ward” who has “eyes that had seen everything and, as a result, were surprised by nothing.” Coldmoon is more down to earth: part Lakota, part Italian, and “every inch a Fed.” Add in murderous drug dealers, an intrepid newspaper reporter, coyotes crossing the U.S.–Mexico border, and a pissed-off wannabe graphic novelist, and you have a thoroughly entertaining cast of characters. There is plenty of suspense, and the action gets bloody.

Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4725-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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