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

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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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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The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once...

DELIVER US FROM EVIL

In Baldacci’s 19th (True Blue, 2009, etc.), boy and girl monster-hunters meet cute.

Evan Waller, aka Fadir Kuchin, aka “the Butcher of Kiev,” aka “the Ukrainian psychopath,” is one of those deep-dyed villains a certain kind of fiction can’t do without. Serving with distinction as part of the Soviet Union’s KGB, he joyfully and indiscriminately killed thousands. Now, many years later, posing as a successful businessman, he’s vacationing in Provence where, unbeknownst to him, two separate clandestine operations are being mounted by people who do not regard him with favor. Reggie Campion—28 and gorgeous—spearheads the first, an ad hoc group of monster-hunting vigilantes. Studly, tall Shaw (no first name supplied) is point guard for a rival team, shadowy enough to leave the matter of its origin ambiguous. While their respective teams reconnoiter and jockey for position, studly boy meets gorgeous girl. Monster-hunters are famous for having trust issues, but clearly these are drawn to each other in the time-honored Hollywood fashion. Shaw saves Reggie’s life. She returns the favor. The attraction deepens and heats up to the point where team-members on both sides grow unsettled by the loss of focus, singularly inopportune since, as monsters go, Waller rises to the second coming of Caligula—ample testimony furnished by a six-page, unsparingly detailed torture scene. In the end, the stalkers strike, bullets fly, screams curdle the blood, love has its innings and a monster does what a monster’s got to do.

The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once again show the stuff it’s made of.

Pub Date: April 20, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-446-56408-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Avon A/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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