Digital (in)activity slows down an already ponderous suspense yarn.

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THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS

The often reworked World War I–era espionage classic re-emerges on a new, interactive media platform that somewhat dilutes its inherent drama and suspense. 

Richard Hannay’s desperate flight from both the long arm of the law and a murderous cabal of World War I conspirators has been entertaining audiences in one form or another for the last century. It’s not particularly surprising that the well-worn tale has now turned up as an ambitious, visually stylish app that seeks to bridge the gap between gaming and literature. All the classic elements of the intrepid Mr. Hannay’s adventure—from the grisly murder of the secret agent he harbors to his subsequent escape into the Scottish Highlands—are retained in the digital version. Split into 19 chapters that must be completed individually in order to progress through the story, the app also consists of several marginally interactive components that will be very familiar to role-playing gamers everywhere. Ghostly bits of clickable text, for instance, fade in and out over mostly static interiors and exteriors while two-dimensional characters appear on screen. Seemingly unimportant items like maps, newspapers and letters must be collected in order to fully understand unfolding events. Collectible Profile cards help keep track of the increasing cast of characters and their back stories, while chapters can be revisited in order to pick up missed items. Players/readers can also check out their progress at any time during the digital experience. Overall, however, the story plays like an old CD-ROM game from the mid-1990s, with only token stabs at utilizing the iPad’s next-generation capabilities. One feature that attempts to capitalize on the device’s “drawable” screen merely mimics mundane actions like opening a door or a window and feels particularly pointless. The pacing throughout—from glacial camera pans and push-ins to evaporating dissolves—is also problematic and painfully slow. Superior voice acting, however, is consistently good, from the main character down to each member of the supporting cast. 

Digital (in)activity slows down an already ponderous suspense yarn.

Pub Date: April 13, 2013

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: The Story Mechanics

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2013

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Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

CROOKED RIVER

FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast finds evil afoot in his latest action-filled adventure (Verses for the Dead, 2018, etc.).

Imagine Florida beachcombers’ shock when they discover a shoe with a severed foot inside. Soon they see dozens more feet, all in identical shoes, bobbing toward the beach. Police and FBI ultimately count more than a hundred of them washing up on Sanibel and Captiva Islands' tranquil shores. Pendergast teams up with the junior Special Agent Armstrong Coldmoon to investigate this strange phenomenon. Oceanographers use a supercomputer to analyze Gulf currents and attempt to determine where the feet entered the ocean. Were they dumped off a ship or an island? Does each one represent a homicide? Analysts examine chemical residues and pollen, even the angle of each foot’s amputation, but the puzzle defies all explanation. Attention focuses on Cuba, where “something terrible was happening” in front of a coastal prison, and on China, the apparent source of the shoes. The clever plot is “a most baffling case indeed” for the brilliant Pendergast, but it’s the type of problem he thrives on. He’s hardly a stereotypical FBI agent, given for example his lemon-colored silk suit, his Panama hat, and his legendary insistence on working alone—until now. Pendergast rarely blinks—perhaps, someone surmises, he’s part reptile. But equally odd is Constance Greene, his “extraordinarily beautiful,” smart, and sarcastic young “ward” who has “eyes that had seen everything and, as a result, were surprised by nothing.” Coldmoon is more down to earth: part Lakota, part Italian, and “every inch a Fed.” Add in murderous drug dealers, an intrepid newspaper reporter, coyotes crossing the U.S.–Mexico border, and a pissed-off wannabe graphic novelist, and you have a thoroughly entertaining cast of characters. There is plenty of suspense, and the action gets bloody.

Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4725-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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.

ONE GOOD DEED

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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