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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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

FIREFLY LANE

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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