Mariani likes to separate his heroes so that he can cut back and forth between them as they’re getting simultaneously...


Mariani’s debut is a globetrotting action fantasy with one eye fixed firmly on The Da Vinci Code and the other on Hollywood.

Does any of this sound familiar? Centuries ago, a beloved artist got in bad with a powerful fraternal organization because one of his best-known productions contained codes that revealed its most closely guarded secrets. The artist died, but the organization lives on as an international conspiracy that’s still working criminal mischief all over the map of present-day Europe. This time around, the artist is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the tell-all production is The Magic Flute, and the conspirators are the Order of Ra, a rogue Masonic faction whose hobby is ritual murder. Instead of sweating the details of the artist’s life or work or the specific content or meaning of the codes that so threatened the Masons, or even convincingly linking conspiracies past and present, Mariani falls back on that old chestnut, the British agent reunited with the girl he left behind. The spy is Benedict Hope, whose SAS assignment is to rescue kidnap victims. The lady is opera star Leigh Llewellyn, whose brother Oliver was executed last year after he stumbled across the Order of Ra's latest handiwork. Leigh has spent 15 years getting over Ben, but he’s still the person she calls when she barely escapes a kidnap attempt herself. Sure enough, her troubles stem from the book Olly had been writing about Mozart’s death. The search for clues, coupled with a chase after bad guys, sometimes away from them, takes Ben and Leigh—and soon enough, their ally, Viennese cop Markus Kinski—across the Continent in brief chapters headed by place names you just know will appear as subtitles in the movie version too.

Mariani likes to separate his heroes so that he can cut back and forth between them as they’re getting simultaneously ambushed in equally picturesque locales. Nor is he averse to a high body count. Apart from the rumor that he was poisoned, though, don’t expect to learn much about Mozart.

Pub Date: March 22, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4391-9336-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2011

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.


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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Sure to be a bestseller, but the guy’s phoning it in.


A lukewarm would-be potboiler of uninvolving intrigue about a kooky quartet of conspiracy theorists—one by the name of “Oliver Stone”—who witness the murder of a federal agent.

Almost 8,000 Americans have died in attacks on U.S. soil. Rocket-propelled grenades have pierced the White House, there’s been another prison fiasco in Afghanistan, a dozen soldiers are dying every day and the war has opened a new front on the Syrian border. Thus the author’s bleak imagining of the near future. Throughout, Baldacci (Hour Game, 2004, etc.) drops reliable twists, revealing the federal agent murder to be—surprise—a minuscule piece of a much bigger plot involving snipers, nukes, a presidential kidnapping and an even gloomier vision of the future. Baldacci is not a particularly graceful writer, e.g., “Like all Secret Service agents, his suits were designed a little big in the chest, to disguise the bulge of the weapon.” Worse is the author’s chronic inability to draw convincing characters. Scooby-Doo had villains more complicated than these; distinctive quirks of the characters, such as one wearing 19th-century clothing, make them only mildly interesting. Baldacci himself seems only partly engaged in the task here. He writes as if he imagines his typical reader to be a business traveler staring down a long layover.

Sure to be a bestseller, but the guy’s phoning it in.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2005

ISBN: 0-446-57738-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2005

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