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

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 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020


Roberts revisits a favorite theme: The power of community can defeat a great evil.

After escaping from a serial killer, a woman tries to reclaim her life.

After a childhood as an Army brat, Morgan Albright is determined to put down roots. She bought a small house in the perfect neighborhood outside of Baltimore, living with a friend and working two jobs to make ends meet. Morgan’s life is happy and fulfilling, and she is making progress on her financial and career goals. Her perfect world is shattered when someone breaks into her home and murders her roommate. At first, the police assume it was a random act of violence, but after discovering the killer stole Morgan’s identity and her entire savings, they realize the crime fits the profile of a serial killer named Gavin Rozwell. The police inform Morgan that her roommate was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time; she was the real intended target. Morgan’s grief, coupled with the financial devastation from the identity theft, leaves her no choice but to return home to Vermont to live with her mother and grandmother. Morgan reconnects with her family and rebuilds her life, including landing the perfect job and falling in love. The police and FBI pursue Gavin, who continues to stalk and kill women, each time leaving a reminder at the crime scene that shows he’s fixated on Morgan as the one who got away. Roberts shows Gavin’s slow descent into obsession and madness as the inverse of Morgan’s healing journey back to herself and her community. The novel highlights Morgan’s preparations for the inevitable final countdown with Gavin, but the lack of immediacy and urgency of the threat makes for a subdued, restrained thriller.

Roberts revisits a favorite theme: The power of community can defeat a great evil.

Pub Date: May 23, 2023

ISBN: 9781250284112

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2023


A well-turned, if predictable, installment in the popular series.

With the United States the “closest [it’s] been to war” in a lifetime, intelligence operative Jack Ryan Jr. faces stiff odds in trying to avert disaster with China.

Trouble with China begins brewing (yet again in the Clancy books) with the rendition of a Chinese scientist and the killing of his American brother, a specialist in machine learning. With a sniper attack on the German outpost of The Campus, Ryan’s “off-the-books” agency, and the downing of an American plane over the South China Sea, U.S. efforts to recover a Chinese undersea glider capable of detecting a $3 billion American stealth submarine are in jeopardy. Things look especially grim with the capture of crash survivor John Clark, Ryan’s boss and a close compadre of his father, President Jack Ryan Sr. With Ryan Sr. still shaken by the abduction of his wife a year ago and Ryan Jr. doubtful of his abilities as a team leader, it's up to intelligence director Mary Pat Foley to calm the waters with her expertise and strong will. One possible outcome is a Chinese attack on Taiwan. In Bentley’s third outing in the series, it takes a while to get past cookie cutter stuff: Many pages go by before the reader knows what all the tense language, chase scenes, and international travel are about. But the book's cool, checkerboard efficiency eventually takes hold. And the streaks of vulnerability that run through the Ryans impart a human dimension that most such thrillers lack. Bentley also takes pains to distinguish the novel from fake fiction: “Unlike in the movies, getting struck by a rifle round moving at several thousand feet per second was not insignificant.”

A well-turned, if predictable, installment in the popular series.

Pub Date: May 23, 2023

ISBN: 9780593422786

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2023