Plenty of flaws in the main character but few in this satisfying thriller.

MAKE THEM CRY

A Drug Enforcement Administration agent heads south of the border on her own, to the regret of many.

Diane “Hardball” Harbaugh has helped put a lot of drug dealers behind bars. “You got two speeds, girl,” her partner says. “Legal eagle and meth dealer.” A confidential informant named Oscar tracks her down in a northern Michigan cabin and shoots himself right in front of her, saying she’s ruined his life. She wonders, “Did she make all the boys cry?” The suicide means she has a whole lot to explain to her superiors, but her troubles quickly become more pressing. A mysterious caller summons her to Mexico to meet a drug lord named El Capataz, who says he needs her help. Her partner wisely advises, “You’re not going to meet a cartel underboss without backup, Diane.” So does she coordinate a response with her superiors? Noooooo, she goes on her own without backup, “half-cocked” and completely against protocol, hoping for a big win to salvage her career. El Capataz has his own reasons to tell her an “enorme” secret, but Diane doesn’t really know if she’ll live or die. “There’s no telling which way your luck’s actually running till the whole thing’s been played out,” her soon-to-be-left-behind partner says, and then it’s too late. The woman has a whole lot more bravery than sense, but that makes for the good story this is. There’s plenty of violence and sharp shards of Spanish-language profanity from men like Tomás, a Zeta gang member with only one skill: He knows how to “delete” people. In this world, “Cash is the chain of command. Money gives the orders.” The story has great lines like “he was as fit as an orchestra of fiddles” and “her whole body was smiling.” Whether or not Hardball’s body still smiles at the end of her journey is for the reader to discover. Either way, she is one tough mujer.

Plenty of flaws in the main character but few in this satisfying thriller.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-282517-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

DREAM TOWN

An old-fashioned gumshoe yarn about Hollywood dreams and dead bodies.

Private investigator Aloysius Archer celebrates New Year’s Eve 1952 in LA with his gorgeous lady friend and aspiring actress Liberty Callahan. Screenwriter Eleanor Lamb shows up and offers to hire him because “someone might be trying to kill me.” “I’m fifty a day plus expenses,” he replies, but money’s no obstacle. Later, he sneaks into Lamb’s house and stumbles upon a body, then gets knocked out by an unseen assailant. Archer takes plenty of physical abuse in the story, but at least he doesn’t get a bullet between the eyes like the guy he trips over. A 30-year-old World War II combat veteran, Archer is a righteous and brave hero. Luck and grit keep him alive in both Vegas and the City of Angels, which is rife with gangsters and crooked cops. Not rich at all, his one luxury is the blood-red 1939 Delahaye he likes to drive with the top down. He’d bought it with his gambling winnings in Reno, and only a bullet hole in the windscreen post mars its perfection. Liberty loves Archer, but will she put up with the daily danger of losing him? Why doesn’t he get a safe job, maybe playing one of LA’s finest on the hit TV show Dragnet? Instead, he’s a tough and principled idealist who wants to make the world a better place. Either that or he’s simply a “pavement-pounding PI on a slow dance to maybe nowhere.” And if some goon doesn’t do him in sooner, his Lucky Strikes will probably do him in later. Baldacci paints a vivid picture of the not-so-distant era when everybody smoked, Joe McCarthy hunted commies, and Marilyn Monroe stirred men’s loins. The 1950s weren’t the fabled good old days, but they’re fodder for gritty crime stories of high ideals and lowlifes, of longing and disappointment, and all the trouble a PI can handle.

Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

Pub Date: April 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5387-1977-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

THE LIONESS

An actress and her entourage are kidnapped by Russians in Bohjalian’s uneven thriller.

In 1964, Hollywood’s gossip rags are agog as movie star Katie Barstow marries gallerist David Hill and takes her inner circle along on her honeymoon. And an adventuresome honeymoon it is—on safari in the Serengeti with aging big-game hunter Charlie Patton, who once helped Hemingway bag trophies. But Katie is not the star of this ensemble piece. The populous cast—a who’s who at the beginning is indispensable—includes Katie’s publicist, Reggie Stout; her agent, Peter Merrick; her best friend, Carmen Tedesco, a supporting actress who plays wisecracking sidekicks; and Terrance Dutton, Katie's recent co-star, a Black actor who's challenging Sidney Poitier's singularity in Hollywood. With obvious nods to Hemingway’s worst fear—masculine cowardice—Bohjalian adds in Felix Demeter, Carmen’s husband, a B-list screenwriter who reminds his wife of Hemingway’s weakling Francis Macomber. Felix seems a superfluous double of David, who feels inadequate because Katie is the breadwinner and his father is CIA. Then there’s Katie’s older brother, Billy Stepanov, whose abuse at the hands of their mother shaped the psychologist he is today; Billy’s pregnant wife, Margie; and Benjamin Kikwete, an apprentice safari guide. Thus, a proliferation of voices whose competing perspectives fragment rather than advance the story. The kidnapping plot seems less designed to test each character’s mettle than to exercise Bohjalian’s predilection for minute descriptions of gore. The most heartfelt portrayal here is of the Serengeti and its flora and fauna, but none of the human characters net enough face time to transcend their typecasting. The motives behind the kidnapping might have lent intrigue to the proceedings, but foreshadowing is so slight that the infodump explainer at the end leaves us shocked, mostly at how haphazard the plot is.

Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54482-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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