An often entertaining series entry with several new and engaging characters.

GOTCHA

Enigmatic programmer Vortmit returns in this second entry in Lytes’ thriller series, involving a drug dealer, a tech millionaire, and a pill-popping lawyer on the South Carolina coast.

After causing a car collision, real estate attorney Gretchen Donovan fakes her death rather than face a disciplinary board for embezzlement, jury tampering, bribery, and other misdeeds. Then a stranger approaches her, thinking she’s someone else, and asks, “Are you still okay to do the drop?” She receives a bag and a briefcase, but she’s unaware that they belong to drug-dealing criminal Garrison Buchan, who’s infuriated when the real pickup guy, Oscar, ends up empty-handed. Meanwhile, Gretchen’s estranged sister, Rainey, hopes to reconnect with her sibling. Vortmit wants Rainey’s popular, million-dollar app, Gotcha—specifically, its “GPS linked proprietary DNA identification software.” After Gretchen’s pill-induced fog wears off, she injects one of the syringes she finds inside the briefcase, which contain an unknown white substance. The cops already have eyes on Oscar, as they know that he’s working for a drug dealer. Adding to the chaos is Vortmit, who tries to take down Garrison on his own to “exact justice that society couldn’t”—and temporarily silence his own mysterious, violence-filled dreams. Vortmit, the star of the previous series installment, appears only sporadically here and has little bearing on the plot. Still, the other players are appealingly vibrant, including sympathetic Oscar, an eccentric psychic named Lenny, and Gretchen, who undergoes a transformation of sorts after repeated injections of the mysterious substance. Despite the large cast, Lytes provides a mostly easy-to-follow plot that’s frequently witty; at one point, for example, the third-person narration defines a breakup as a “sudden yank at the ejection seat of their relationship.” Some aspects are confusing, though, such as Vortmit’s murky backstory and the appearances of Raoul and Jose, who headline their own chapter before promptly vanishing from the novel.

An often entertaining series entry with several new and engaging characters.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 377

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2020

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As attuned as always to current geopolitical concerns, but substantially less compelling than Silva's previous novels.

THE CELLIST

Gabriel Allon goes after the deadliest weapon at the Russian president’s disposal—his money.

When CIA agent–turned–art dealer Sarah Bancroft finds the dead body of Viktor Orlov, a wealthy newspaper publisher and Russian dissident, the grim discovery leads Gabriel Allon, the head of Israel’s intelligence service, to a treasure trove of documents detailing massive financial crimes. Once he tracks down the woman who leaked these documents, Gabriel may finally have the tools he needs to take down the autocrat in the Kremlin. “A nuclear bomb can only be dropped once. But money can be wielded every day with no fallout and no threat of mutually assured destruction.” This bit of wisdom comes from a Russian operative Gabriel captured in The Other Woman (2018), and Silva makes a persuasive case that the best way to neutralize the threat of troll farms and disinformation campaigns is to starve these operations of cash. But this is a thriller, not an essay in Foreign Policy. It turns out that money laundering isn’t inherently exciting, and Silva does little to make it so. Identifying the shadowy figure who manages the Russian president’s fortune is easy, as is infiltrating his world. All the characters in this universe are types, but most of them are crafted with verisimilitude sufficient to keep the reader engaged. The titular cellist, Isabel Brenner, is a beautiful blond blank. It’s not at all clear why she makes the transition from functionary at a dirty bank to amateur spy willing to risk her life to ruin oligarchs. In previous novels, Silva wove in chapters written from the points of view of the bad guys. This technique creates dramatic irony, and it has given us some truly terrific villains—horrifying sadists and gleeful monsters of corruption who make excellent foils for the nearly superhuman Gabriel. Past installments have also given Gabriel's team more to do, and it’s impossible not to miss them and their spycraft.

As attuned as always to current geopolitical concerns, but substantially less compelling than Silva's previous novels.

Pub Date: July 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-283486-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Harper

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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Eerie atmosphere isn’t enough to overcome an unsatisfying plot and sometimes-exasperating protagonist.

THE MAIDENS

A blend of psychological mystery and gothic thriller puts a psychotherapist in pursuit of a serial killer on the campus of Cambridge University.

The author’s second novel features a psychotherapist as its main character, as did his 2019 debut, The Silent Patient (whose main character makes an appearance here). This book’s protagonist is Mariana, who has a busy practice in London specializing in group therapy. At 36, she’s a widow, reeling from the drowning a year before of her beloved husband, Sebastian. She’s galvanized out of her fog by a call from her niece, Zoe, who was raised by Mariana and Sebastian after her parents died. Zoe is now studying at Cambridge, where Mariana and Sebastian met and courted. Zoe has terrible news: Her close friend Tara has been murdered, savagely stabbed and dumped in a wood. Mariana heads for Cambridge and, when the police arrest someone she thinks is innocent, starts her own investigation. She zeroes in on Edward Fosca, a handsome, charismatic classics professor who has a cultlike following of beautiful female students (which included Tara) called the Maidens, a reference to the cult of Eleusis in ancient Greece, whose followers worshipped Demeter and Persephone. Suspicious characters seem to be around every ivy-covered corner of the campus, though—an audacious young man Mariana meets on the train, one of her patients who has turned stalker, a porter at one of the college’s venerable houses, even the surly police inspector. The book gets off to a slow start, front-loaded with backstories and a Cambridge travelogue, but then picks up the pace and piles up the bodies. With its ambience of ritualistic murders, ancient myths, and the venerable college, the story is a gothic thriller despite its contemporary setting. That makes Mariana tough to get on board with—she behaves less like a modern professional woman than a 19th-century gothic heroine, a clueless woman who can be counted on in any situation to make the worst possible choice. And the book’s ending, while surprising, also feels unearned, like a bolt from the blue hurled by some demigod.

Eerie atmosphere isn’t enough to overcome an unsatisfying plot and sometimes-exasperating protagonist.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-30445-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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