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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Sure to be a bestseller, but the guy’s phoning it in.


A lukewarm would-be potboiler of uninvolving intrigue about a kooky quartet of conspiracy theorists—one by the name of “Oliver Stone”—who witness the murder of a federal agent.

Almost 8,000 Americans have died in attacks on U.S. soil. Rocket-propelled grenades have pierced the White House, there’s been another prison fiasco in Afghanistan, a dozen soldiers are dying every day and the war has opened a new front on the Syrian border. Thus the author’s bleak imagining of the near future. Throughout, Baldacci (Hour Game, 2004, etc.) drops reliable twists, revealing the federal agent murder to be—surprise—a minuscule piece of a much bigger plot involving snipers, nukes, a presidential kidnapping and an even gloomier vision of the future. Baldacci is not a particularly graceful writer, e.g., “Like all Secret Service agents, his suits were designed a little big in the chest, to disguise the bulge of the weapon.” Worse is the author’s chronic inability to draw convincing characters. Scooby-Doo had villains more complicated than these; distinctive quirks of the characters, such as one wearing 19th-century clothing, make them only mildly interesting. Baldacci himself seems only partly engaged in the task here. He writes as if he imagines his typical reader to be a business traveler staring down a long layover.

Sure to be a bestseller, but the guy’s phoning it in.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2005

ISBN: 0-446-57738-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2005

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Amateurish, with a twist savvy readers will see coming from a mile away.

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A woman accused of shooting her husband six times in the face refuses to speak.

"Alicia Berenson was thirty-three years old when she killed her husband. They had been married for seven years. They were both artists—Alicia was a painter, and Gabriel was a well-known fashion photographer." Michaelides' debut is narrated in the voice of psychotherapist Theo Faber, who applies for a job at the institution where Alicia is incarcerated because he's fascinated with her case and believes he will be able to get her to talk. The narration of the increasingly unrealistic events that follow is interwoven with excerpts from Alicia's diary. Ah, yes, the old interwoven diary trick. When you read Alicia's diary you'll conclude the woman could well have been a novelist instead of a painter because it contains page after page of detailed dialogue, scenes, and conversations quite unlike those in any journal you've ever seen. " 'What's the matter?' 'I can't talk about it on the phone, I need to see you.' 'It's just—I'm not sure I can make it up to Cambridge at the minute.' 'I'll come to you. This afternoon. Okay?' Something in Paul's voice made me agree without thinking about it. He sounded desperate. 'Okay. Are you sure you can't tell me about it now?' 'I'll see you later.' Paul hung up." Wouldn't all this appear in a diary as "Paul wouldn't tell me what was wrong"? An even more improbable entry is the one that pins the tail on the killer. While much of the book is clumsy, contrived, and silly, it is while reading passages of the diary that one may actually find oneself laughing out loud.

Amateurish, with a twist savvy readers will see coming from a mile away.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-30169-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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