MARCO POLO, IF YOU CAN

In Who's On First, Buckley inserted CIA-agent hero Blackford Oakes into real history (the US/Soviet space race) with the cleverest sort of almost-plausibility. Here, however, the tinkering with the facts slips over the edge into oddly grating fantasy: Buckley's plot leads up to (and re-explains) the 1960 U-2 incident. . . but blithely substitutes Blacky Oakes for the never-mentioned Francis Gary Powers. How much will this annoy Oakes' wide following? Probably not too much—since overall readability is at the usual high level, with a fast-paced merry-go-round of interlocking subplots. In 1957 Blacky is dumped by the Agency for his noble yet treasonous doings in Who's On First. Meanwhile, however, the US learns that there's a "mole" in Washington, leaking minutes of National Security Council meetings to Moscow—so Blacky is re-recruited to help super-spy Rufus trace the espionage trail from D.C. to Berlin. And, also meanwhile, it's hinted that Blacky's pal/colleague Mike has, without his knowledge, a connection to the case: his Italian-immigrant father—a half-Jewish Mussolini victim and ex-Communist—is part of the spy ring. (When Mike learns the truth, he'll die to save Blacky's life—and, worse yet, someone near and dear to Blacky will turn out to be the mole herself.) Still, tracking down the spies is only the first half of the CIA/FBI/Eisenhower plan here. The second half is to use the unsuspecting spies to feed Moscow false data suggesting a Washington/Peking alliance—a decoy scheme ("Marco Polo") which must be clinched by. . . guess what? The seemingly accidental landing of a U-2 plane in Russia—a plane involved in US/China espionage and piloted by Blackford Oakes, who's nearly executed by the Soviets before they decide to trade him for the now—captured leader of their US spy-ring. True, Buckley's 1950s-minded ideological snipings (often gratuitous) are a bit uglier than usual this time around. And Blacky, so sympathetic in Who's On First, is mostly just smug, smirky (preppy-macho about sex), brave, and bland—especially when surrounded by padding concerning the U-2 technology. But even if this is perhaps the weakest (and most objectionable) of the series, it's still fast, sly, and literate: a rare, distinctive species within the lookalike thriller herd.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 1981

ISBN: 1888952113

Page Count: 267

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1981

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Proficient but eminently predictable. Amid all the time shifts and embedded backstories, the most surprising feature is how...

THE A LIST

A convicted killer’s list of five people he wants dead runs the gamut from the wife he’s already had murdered to franchise heroine Ali Reynolds.

Back in the day, women came from all over to consult Santa Clarita fertility specialist Dr. Edward Gilchrist. Many of them left his care happily pregnant, never dreaming that the father of the babies they carried was none other than the physician himself, who donated his own sperm rather than that of the handsome, athletic, disease-free men pictured in his scrapbook. When Alexandra Munsey’s son, Evan, is laid low by the kidney disease he’s inherited from his biological father and she returns to Gilchrist in search of the donor’s medical records, the roof begins to fall in on him. By the time it’s done falling, he’s serving a life sentence in Folsom Prison for commissioning the death of his wife, Dawn, the former nurse and sometime egg donor who’d turned on him. With nothing left to lose, Gilchrist tattoos himself with the initials of five people he blames for his fall: Dawn; Leo Manuel Aurelio, the hit man he’d hired to dispose of her; Kaitlyn Todd, the nurse/receptionist who took Dawn’s place; Alex Munsey, whose search for records upset his apple cart; and Ali Reynolds, the TV reporter who’d helped put Alex in touch with the dozen other women who formed the Progeny Project because their children looked just like hers. No matter that Ali’s been out of both California and the news business for years; Gilchrist and his enablers know that revenge can’t possibly be served too cold. Wonder how far down that list they’ll get before Ali, aided once more by Frigg, the methodical but loose-cannon AI first introduced in Duel to the Death (2018), turns on them?

Proficient but eminently predictable. Amid all the time shifts and embedded backstories, the most surprising feature is how little the boundary-challenged AI, who gets into the case more or less inadvertently, differs from your standard human sidekick with issues.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5101-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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