An exuberantly plotted, if uneven, entry in a promising thriller series.

Black Flagged Redux

BOOK TWO IN THE BLACK FLAGGED SERIES

Action hero Daniel Petrovich tackles a worldwide biological-weapons threat in the second installment of Konkoly’s (Black Flagged, 2011, etc.) thriller series.

In a rural compound in Argentina, retired U.S. general Terrence Sanderson plans to reactivate his rogue Black Flag training program. He believes that the only effective way to tackle the world’s problems is by sending operatives on under-the-radar black-ops missions. However, Sanderson is wanted by the FBI for past misdeeds, and his best operatives, married couple Daniel and Jessica Petrovich, are having issues of their own. Jessica, who’s haunted by her previous undercover work, even tries to talk her husband into leaving the program. Amid this tension, a new assignment bubbles up: CIA agent Karl Berg, who has gone “off the books” before, has gotten wind that a disgruntled Russian scientist has unleashed a virulent virus into the water of a remote Russian town to demonstrate the weapon’s worth to Muslim extremists. With Daniel on the ground in Russia and illegally deployed CIA drones in the air, Sanderson and Berg join forces to observe the contagion and track down the scientist before the Russian government covers up the danger. Meanwhile, Jessica, taking a break in Buenos Aires, gets a visit from Serbians seeking revenge. The pace certainly doesn’t flag in this second entry in U.S. Naval Academy graduate Konkoly’s series. The book has an often confusing array of government-agency players, which makes Konkoly’s front-of-book character list a particularly welcome and necessary reference. The author’s description of the rabies-like Russian contagion is particularly intriguing and will no doubt please fans of The Walking Dead graphic-novel and TV series. The series continues to struggle with character development, however, within its imaginative plots; for example, Daniel, who rose up as a potential hero of the series in the first book, retreats somewhat into the background here, serving as merely another tool in the author’s entertaining tale of covert activities on the world stage.

An exuberantly plotted, if uneven, entry in a promising thriller series.

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-1477401392

Page Count: 382

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2013

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

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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King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

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THE INSTITUTE

The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie.

Tim Jamieson is a man emphatically not in a hurry. As King’s (The Outsider, 2018, etc.) latest opens, he’s bargaining with a flight attendant to sell his seat on an overbooked run from Tampa to New York. His pockets full, he sticks out his thumb and winds up in the backwater South Carolina town of DuPray (should we hear echoes of “pray”? Or “depraved”?). Turns out he’s a decorated cop, good at his job and at reading others (“You ought to go see Doc Roper,” he tells a local. “There are pills that will brighten your attitude”). Shift the scene to Minneapolis, where young Luke Ellis, precociously brilliant, has been kidnapped by a crack extraction team, his parents brutally murdered so that it looks as if he did it. Luke is spirited off to Maine—this is King, so it’s got to be Maine—and a secret shadow-government lab where similarly conscripted paranormally blessed kids, psychokinetic and telepathic, are made to endure the Skinnerian pain-and-reward methods of the evil Mrs. Sigsby. How to bring the stories of Tim and Luke together? King has never minded detours into the unlikely, but for this one, disbelief must be extra-willingly suspended. In the end, their forces joined, the two and their redneck allies battle the sophisticated secret agents of The Institute in a bloodbath of flying bullets and beams of mental energy (“You’re in the south now, Annie had told these gunned-up interlopers. She had an idea they were about to find out just how true that was"). It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps.

King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-1056-7

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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