If reality were a comic book or a Stallone script, this would be a useful road map. As it is, it’ll be gobbled up like a...

DEAD OR ALIVE

Good guys versus sneering terrorists, yet again: classic Clancy, a blend of stick-figure storytelling, rightist op-ed and tech manual for death-dealing gadgets.

The most interesting figure, and the only one who has even a layer or two of skin by way of characterization, appears first in Clancy’s (The Hunt for Red October, 1984, etc.) latest. Sam Driscoll is a tough-as-nails sergeant, a Ranger, now bearded and lanky-haired, ready for action at the caves of Tora Bora hunting you-know-who. When a few mujahedeen get wasted along the way, Kealty, the namby-pamby and probably illegitimate president who has succeeded President Jack Ryan—who probably should have a trademark symbol accompanying his name—gets all weepy, while politically correct military lawyers come over all legal-like about the rules of engagement. Ryan, for his part, gets ticked (“This idiot Kealty doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing. What’s worse, he doesn’t care”). Meanwhile his namesake, Jack Jr., springs into action at what one supposes to be the mark-two successor to the CIA, a super-secret agency known as The Campus, “which was officially out of all the loops, which was sort of the point.” And why out of the loop? Well, obviously, because liberal presidents like Kealty (fill in whatever name you wish) are loyal only to themselves, not to the country—and bad timing for that, since, well, after all, “Islamic fundamentalists had declared war on America and her allies.” The baddest of ’em all, the Emir, thinks he’s Saladin—and, of course, it’s up to the likes of Ryan Jr. and Driscoll and the other heroes of the piece to mount a crusade against him. The infantile vision of politics aside, much of the book reads like a Pentagon white paper (“Of all the feasibility studies the URC had done in the early stages of Lotus, the most troubling and nebulous question had involved the facility’s on-site security, an issue that neither the DOE nor NRC had publicly addressed”). There are some nifty explosions, though.

If reality were a comic book or a Stallone script, this would be a useful road map. As it is, it’ll be gobbled up like a Happy Meal, Ronald Reagan’s “perfect yarn” franchised into neatly packaged commodity.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-399-15723-3

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2011

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The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once...

DELIVER US FROM EVIL

In Baldacci’s 19th (True Blue, 2009, etc.), boy and girl monster-hunters meet cute.

Evan Waller, aka Fadir Kuchin, aka “the Butcher of Kiev,” aka “the Ukrainian psychopath,” is one of those deep-dyed villains a certain kind of fiction can’t do without. Serving with distinction as part of the Soviet Union’s KGB, he joyfully and indiscriminately killed thousands. Now, many years later, posing as a successful businessman, he’s vacationing in Provence where, unbeknownst to him, two separate clandestine operations are being mounted by people who do not regard him with favor. Reggie Campion—28 and gorgeous—spearheads the first, an ad hoc group of monster-hunting vigilantes. Studly, tall Shaw (no first name supplied) is point guard for a rival team, shadowy enough to leave the matter of its origin ambiguous. While their respective teams reconnoiter and jockey for position, studly boy meets gorgeous girl. Monster-hunters are famous for having trust issues, but clearly these are drawn to each other in the time-honored Hollywood fashion. Shaw saves Reggie’s life. She returns the favor. The attraction deepens and heats up to the point where team-members on both sides grow unsettled by the loss of focus, singularly inopportune since, as monsters go, Waller rises to the second coming of Caligula—ample testimony furnished by a six-page, unsparingly detailed torture scene. In the end, the stalkers strike, bullets fly, screams curdle the blood, love has its innings and a monster does what a monster’s got to do.

The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once again show the stuff it’s made of.

Pub Date: April 20, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-446-56408-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Avon A/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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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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