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THE MALTA EXCHANGE

This one will appeal to Dan Brown fans and anyone else in the mood for a page-turning yarn.

Religion and murder meet in Malta and Rome in this 14th entry in the author’s Cotton Malone series (The Bishop’s Pawn, 2018, etc.).

The pope has died, and His Eminence Kastor Cardinal Gallo schemes to get the job. Unfortunately, he is “radioactive” in the church, even “proclaimed a threat to all the faithful.” Oh, and he only fakes his religious belief. All he wants is power, and he will kill for it. His identical twin brother, Pollux, is a Knight of Malta but not a priest and certainly not his brother’s keeper. Meanwhile, series hero Cotton Malone is on a special freelance assignment from Britain’s MI6, looking for rumored secret correspondence between Churchill and Mussolini. And former Army Ranger Luke Daniels trails Kastor, who is from Malta, where much of the story takes place. Cotton finds a mysterious ring engraved with a Maltese cross and a five-word palindrome that’s spelled out a tad too often. Perhaps a secret lies in the engraved words. He also uncovers documents hidden by Mussolini and looks for what’s hidden in an obelisk in Rome. The intrigue is intense as Kastor and a few goons will stoop to murder to abet his rise to the most powerful post in the Catholic Church. Thriller fans will have their violence fix, but the real fun is in learning about the inner workings of the church, its history dating all the way back to Constantine, and the troubled past of Malta. Cynicism about Christianity abounds; why else would Simon Wiesenthal have said that the Vatican has the best spy service in the world? Popes Pius XI and XII never stood up to the fascists, and perhaps heaven, hell, and the Holy Trinity were invented in the third century merely to differentiate Christianity from Judaism. Cotton is highly capable—“Failure was not his style,” meaning he fits in well among the can-do American heroes in the genre. But Kastor and Pollux are the conniving hypocrites who really pop off the pages.

This one will appeal to Dan Brown fans and anyone else in the mood for a page-turning yarn.

Pub Date: March 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-14026-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

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. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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DARK MATTER

Suspenseful, frightening, and sometimes poignant—provided the reader has a generously willing suspension of disbelief.

A man walks out of a bar and his life becomes a kaleidoscope of altered states in this science-fiction thriller.

Crouch opens on a family in a warm, resonant domestic moment with three well-developed characters. At home in Chicago’s Logan Square, Jason Dessen dices an onion while his wife, Daniela, sips wine and chats on the phone. Their son, Charlie, an appealing 15-year-old, sketches on a pad. Still, an undertone of regret hovers over the couple, a preoccupation with roads not taken, a theme the book will literally explore, in multifarious ways. To start, both Jason and Daniela abandoned careers that might have soared, Jason as a physicist, Daniela as an artist. When Charlie was born, he suffered a major illness. Jason was forced to abandon promising research to teach undergraduates at a small college. Daniela turned from having gallery shows to teaching private art lessons to middle school students. On this bracing October evening, Jason visits a local bar to pay homage to Ryan Holder, a former college roommate who just received a major award for his work in neuroscience, an honor that rankles Jason, who, Ryan says, gave up on his career. Smarting from the comment, Jason suffers “a sucker punch” as he heads home that leaves him “standing on the precipice.” From behind Jason, a man with a “ghost white” face, “red, pursed lips," and "horrifying eyes” points a gun at Jason and forces him to drive an SUV, following preset navigational directions. At their destination, the abductor forces Jason to strip naked, beats him, then leads him into a vast, abandoned power plant. Here, Jason meets men and women who insist they want to help him. Attempting to escape, Jason opens a door that leads him into a series of dark, strange, yet eerily familiar encounters that sometimes strain credibility, especially in the tale's final moments.

Suspenseful, frightening, and sometimes poignant—provided the reader has a generously willing suspension of disbelief.

Pub Date: July 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-90422-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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