A smart, layered spy thriller.

Vile Means

Dimodica (Covert Matters, 2015, etc.) crafts an intricately plotted spy game.

In 1999, Norris Stanton is a wealthy recluse and a survivor of the Nazi regime who now masterfully manipulates world currency markets. He also exploits Panama’s Colón Free Trade Zone and canal to make billions, then funnels all the profits to the Israeli Mossad. But as the official handoff of the canal from the United States to Panama approaches, Norris’ scheme is in jeopardy. He puts in a call to Tel Aviv for his marker, and the Mossad hatches a plot to destabilize Panama with a Serbian psychopath, who sets about forming a ragtag army of peasants to terrorize the country “for a taste of power, money, and a sense of belonging.” The goal is to lure the United States into an invasion to protect their ally and the all-important canal. When the CIA begins receiving reports from Panama of rape, torture, and murder by members of a new revolutionary movement, they send a “blind team” in country to do reconnaissance and report back. Dimodica, a former Special Forces and military intelligence operative, is good at setting the stage, and although the plot is complicated, it’s structured well enough to avoid confusion. However, the author’s habitual use of short, choppy paragraphs sometimes interferes with the narrative flow as the multinational narrative jumps from time zone to time zone. The pace is brisk and steady at the beginning, and again during the climax and denouement, but lags in the middle third; however, the ending is touching and satisfying. Dimodica’s characters are surprisingly well-developed for the genre and mostly portrayed sympathetically, with the exception of the monstrous Serb—but even he gets a back story revealing his motivations. Dimodica even waxes poetic at times: “Twilight is a time for artists, painters, photographers, and romantics. It is also the time of professional soldiers.” He also brings knowledge and experience to the story when depicting political machinations and explaining operational tactics, and he provides historical, cultural, and sociological context from the Oval Office to the Panamanian jungle.

A smart, layered spy thriller.

Pub Date: April 20, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5301-4063-3

Page Count: 392

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2016

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This is fast-paced, nonstop fun. Cussler fans will gobble it up.


Rumors of lost Egyptian treasure spark high adventure in this 17th in the NUMA series featuring oceanographer Kurt Austin and his crew (Sea of Greed, 2018, etc.).

Over 3,000 years ago, grave robbers sail away with loot from a pharaoh’s tomb. In 1927, Jake Melbourne and his plane disappear in his attempt at a trans-Atlantic flight. In the present day, arms merchants known as the Bloodstone Group have taken to stealing antiquities. They are looking for a “treasure both vast and glorious” that hieroglyphics say was shipped down the Nile and out of Egypt, perhaps even west across the Atlantic. (Holy scurvy! That must’ve been a lot of hard rowing!) The criminals are known to MI5 as “very dangerous people" and "merchants selling death.” Perfectly willing to kill everyone in their way, they are aided by mechanical crows and Fydor and Xandra, nasty sibling assassins jointly called the Toymaker. Such are the foes faced by Austin and his team from the National Underwater and Marine Agency. Of course, Austin has no interest in profit; he will gladly leave the ancient riches wherever they are. Action arrives early and often, and the failed pre-Lindbergh flight fits in neatly. Cussler and Brown concoct a nifty plot with disparate, sometimes over-the-top twists that will make even hardcore adventure fans say “Wow!” Expect claustrophobic gunfights, aerial combat, a life-threatening flood, messages from the dead, coffins of gold—and a vintage classic car, because why not? “We’re going to steal the greatest deposit of Egyptian treasure the world has ever known,” brags the evil mastermind. But he’ll have to climb over the series hero’s dead body first, which—no plot spoiler here—ain’t gonna happen.

This is fast-paced, nonstop fun. Cussler fans will gobble it up.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-08308-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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