A myriad of codes and riddles provide a solid amount of enjoyment for fans of mysteries or espionage thrillers.



In Gratsias’ debut historical thriller, an anthropologist learns that his family may be linked to a decadeslong war between good and evil.

Dr. Matthias Adkins, head of the University of Colorado’s sociocultural anthropology research department, makes a shocking discovery in his grandmother’s attic. A hidden box that belonged to his late grandfather Thomas contains a photo of an unknown German naval officer, an Iron Cross, and a leather notebook with codes and symbols. He and his live-in girlfriend, Linda, identify the officer as Adm. Wilhelm Canaris, who was executed in 1945 for working against the Nazi regime, while Thomas’ codes and riddles take Matthias to Boston, Argentina and France. It seems that Matthias is destined to join the Phoenix Order—a secret group created by Canaris—to protect the order’s sacred relics. Matthias needs to find the hidden relics, but he must first elude the Sanctum, an evil society tied to the Nazi Party. In Gratsias’ historically rich mystery/thriller, watching Matthias and Linda decrypt Thomas’ coded messages is both enjoyable and intriguing (the codes certainly aren’t easy to solve), while the Sanctum’s Albert Moreno, a killer who targets Matthias, is an unsettling character made even creepier by the mystery obscuring him (Albert isn’t even his real name). The story’s pliable timeline—moving from the end of World War II to the late 1980s to 2008—complements Matthias’ global trek, as the Sanctum tracks down key members of the Phoenix Order. The narrative does unfortunately become a bit confusing when names and dates are muddled: Matthias’ birthday is initially in May but later given as January; his surname alternates between Adkins and Atkins; his grandmother’s name changes from Carolyn to Caroline and then to Cynthia, which is also his mother’s name; and Thomas’ year of death is noted as both 1988 and 1978. Gratsias clarifies a number of historical references via footnotes, while the abundance of newspaper articles, websites and Wikipedia entries that characters, particularly Matthias and Linda, peruse are properly cited, also in footnotes. The ending offers a resolution, but the Phoenix Order’s expansive background is a literary hotbed for sequels.

A myriad of codes and riddles provide a solid amount of enjoyment for fans of mysteries or espionage thrillers.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499625608

Page Count: 312

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 8, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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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.


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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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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