Death By Probability

In Barthel’s debut techno-thriller, the death of a scientist in a California lab could be murder, and his posthumously discovered message warns of a possible terrorist attack in the U.S.
Evan Olsson works at Halsted Aeronautic Laboratory for two years before he even hears of HAL’s secret lab, the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. His boss asks him to summarize, in nontechnical terms for the benefit of HAL customers, the scientists’ projects carried out in the SCIF. When Evan’s SCIF boss and mentor, Will Davenport, is found dead is his office, Evan takes over Will’s project, analyzing data for the FBI—namely emails or other forms of communication from suspected drug dealers. But an encrypted video message from Will leads Evan to believe that someone murdered him for getting too close to a covert group plotting to cripple the U.S. by sabotaging its electrical power network. As Evan fears that a killer may target him as well, he teams up with Matt Emerson, a Fed who’d worked with Will on the project, to shut down drug dealers and potential terrorists that, Evan discovers, may have ties to Will’s murderer. The novel is a deft blend of techno-thriller and murder mystery, and the latter is promptly established by opening with the discovery of Will’s body. Evan’s SCIF assignment has him interviewing scientists about their projects, including two men developing small, imperceptible transponders, and each of these people ultimately becomes a suspect, as the high-level security at HAL practically guarantees that the killer is employed at the lab. Evan is a curious protagonist whose initial behavior is perplexing; the first thing he does after learning of his boss’s death is take Holly, a colleague married to another HAL scientist, to lunch and strongly suggest that they have sex (he later concedes that he “felt like a creep”). But his amateur investigation is solid. He whittles down the suspect list with the barest of clues, having seen neither the body nor any data collected by the FBI (which didn’t treat it as a crime scene), and his paranoia is well-founded since he’s dealing with scientists who prefer keeping their work secret. The best sequences are of Evan conversing with his artificial intelligence, Al; their discussions not only accommodate updates on the progressing case, but are quite humorous as well.
A sound thriller/mystery with drug dealers, terrorists and a memorable lead character.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-1478722786

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Outskirts

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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