A fast-paced but credulity-straining tale.



From the Vortmit series , Vol. 1

A police officer investigates a sinister computer program that targets “unfit” people for assassination in this thriller.

A programmer known as Vortmit describes his creation, Clean, as follows: “If the program acquires enough information to declare somebody guilty and unfit for society….That person will die. It might look like a car accident, or a suicide, or a mugging, but the result will be the same. And the Clean program will be behind it,” hiring hitmen or blackmailing others to carry out its missions. In just one week, Clean has been responsible for 1,312 deaths, with more to come. Vortmit’s convoluted scheme involves using the program to ensnare Donald Trump–like New York gubernatorial candidate Carson Miller, who’s running on a platform of cleaning up “the cultural dumpster that America has become.” A police officer named Peggy knows Clean’s terrifying power firsthand; it blackmailed her into killing her own brother, who had a connection to Vortmit—and then her name was added to Clean’s database. She teams up with an FBI agent named Finley to try to shut it down. Lytes’ series launch is part-Westworld in its depiction of deadly technology and part–Black Mirror in its reflections on the power that technology has over our lives: “Why do we put so many decisions into the hands of computers?” Peggy says at one point, in a statement that’s a little too on-the-nose. “To keep us safe? Make our decisions?” It’s never made clear what Vortmit’s motives are for unleashing Clean on the world: “Clean has always been about money,” he says to himself at one point. “And that money will give me the power I need to do what I want.” But what he actually wants is vague. Several characters operate under aliases, which further complicates the narrative, and it frustratingly takes Peggy and company the entire book to make connections that the author reveals to readers early on. Still, the story has a propulsive energy and some neat turns of phrase, such as “mantle count”—the number of constituents at a campaign event who want photographs with a candidate.

A fast-paced but credulity-straining tale.

Pub Date: July 11, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5439-6823-1

Page Count: 418

Publisher: BookBaby

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2019

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.


Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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Proficient but eminently predictable. Amid all the time shifts and embedded backstories, the most surprising feature is how...

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A convicted killer’s list of five people he wants dead runs the gamut from the wife he’s already had murdered to franchise heroine Ali Reynolds.

Back in the day, women came from all over to consult Santa Clarita fertility specialist Dr. Edward Gilchrist. Many of them left his care happily pregnant, never dreaming that the father of the babies they carried was none other than the physician himself, who donated his own sperm rather than that of the handsome, athletic, disease-free men pictured in his scrapbook. When Alexandra Munsey’s son, Evan, is laid low by the kidney disease he’s inherited from his biological father and she returns to Gilchrist in search of the donor’s medical records, the roof begins to fall in on him. By the time it’s done falling, he’s serving a life sentence in Folsom Prison for commissioning the death of his wife, Dawn, the former nurse and sometime egg donor who’d turned on him. With nothing left to lose, Gilchrist tattoos himself with the initials of five people he blames for his fall: Dawn; Leo Manuel Aurelio, the hit man he’d hired to dispose of her; Kaitlyn Todd, the nurse/receptionist who took Dawn’s place; Alex Munsey, whose search for records upset his apple cart; and Ali Reynolds, the TV reporter who’d helped put Alex in touch with the dozen other women who formed the Progeny Project because their children looked just like hers. No matter that Ali’s been out of both California and the news business for years; Gilchrist and his enablers know that revenge can’t possibly be served too cold. Wonder how far down that list they’ll get before Ali, aided once more by Frigg, the methodical but loose-cannon AI first introduced in Duel to the Death (2018), turns on them?

Proficient but eminently predictable. Amid all the time shifts and embedded backstories, the most surprising feature is how little the boundary-challenged AI, who gets into the case more or less inadvertently, differs from your standard human sidekick with issues.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5101-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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