A skillful blend of political savvy, international espionage, and high drama.

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RISE OF THE TAISHAKU

A covert operation of American and Japanese forces plans to extract an engineer with valuable intelligence from North Korea in this novel. 

Discovering a boat smuggling drugs off the coast of the Noto Peninsula, the Japanese Coast Guard pursues the vessel. The craft discharges sophisticated anti-ship missiles, inadvertently killing a fisherman and his young daughter. Wilson Bennett, an analyst for the U.S. National Security Council, believes there’s a possibility that the missiles are traceable to North Korea, an indication that the country has made considerable technological progress. In addition, the exportation of that technology into Japan, used in an attack on that nation’s military personnel, would constitute an act of war. Meanwhile, Bennett learns from a humanitarian group operating an underground transport of illicit supplies—including Bibles—into North Korea that an engineer, Pyong Hae Han, with access to highly classified information about the government’s progress developing a nuclear missile, is looking to defect. But that kind of exfiltration is highly problematic: First, an engineer working on such a secretive project would never be allowed to leave the country, which means his rescuers will have to cross the North Korean border. In addition, he won’t depart without his family, which includes a child stricken with muscular dystrophy. To further complicate matters, Bennett confesses that none of the engineer’s story—including his identity—is confirmable. Bennett teams up with Trinh Archer—a U.S. diplomat with an expertise in organized crime and drug smuggling—to plan the joint operation of American and Japanese troops. Archer’s life is endangered when the crime boss overseeing the smuggling operation—Takada Kano—decides the diplomat’s investigation threatens his business.  Radcliffe (Goraiko: Japan’s National Security in an Era of Asymmetric Threats, 2014, etc.) is astonishingly knowledgeable about a matrix of subjects around which the novel revolves: Asian regional affairs, Japanese politics and culture, military technology, and the murky world of global spying. This is a stunningly well-researched tale. And while the story is both dense and complex, the author’s prose is mercifully transparent, and the plot is structured in a way that maximizes clarity. In addition, the drama is simply gripping, and Radcliffe provides a fascinating portal into the most reclusive regime in the world, and the macabre deprivations of even its more privileged citizens. And as engrossing and action-packed as the story is, the author never skimps on the meaningful construction of his characters. Bennett emerges as a multifaceted protagonist, a hardened analyst who has seen the ugly depths of human depravity but still retains his idealistic commitments, presumably the vestigial influence of his parents, who worked as missionaries in Asia. Radcliffe occasionally succumbs to the charms of narrative formulas—Archer establishes her toughness by physically punishing a coarse American soldier. When she verbally threatens his friends, one responds: “Holy shit lady, you’re damn right we won’t touch you!” The depiction of the Japanese criminal underworld is susceptible to similar tropes, with shopworn fictional devices ostensibly used to assist the lazier reader. Nonetheless, this book is an immersive and educational experience. 

A skillful blend of political savvy, international espionage, and high drama. 

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-983491-23-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2018

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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

THEN SHE WAS GONE

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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