Although much of this is cartoonishly over-the-top, there is surely an enthusiastic audience for it.

RACING ORION

In Franz’s thriller, one CIA agent strives to save the world from the mother of all viruses.

CIA agent Jeremy Kent was a mole in a bad guys’ outfit and was discovered, but only after he had snatched and hidden the antidote to the most insidious and powerful artificial virus known to humankind. Of course, he does not crack under torture, and in the nick of time, escapes. (In fact, he escapes time and time again!) Jeremy is being chased now all across Europe, and in a particularly harrowing getaway, beautiful innocent bystander Allison Shaw is pulled into the chaos. Now it is the two of them on the run—and of course the seeds of love have been planted. They have the antidote to the virus but must retrieve a key (don’t ask) that has been stashed in Buckingham Palace. Franz certainly knows how to keep things moving. The chapters are very short, and unlike thrillers with more subtle plots, this one is really just one long, relentless, hair-raising chase. The good guys are good, and the bad guys are horrifically, pathologically bad. Jeremy is not George Smiley but rather James Bond, squared. At one point, he chews into his own shoulder to get out a capsule that will simulate death. He is shot, knifed, and thrown around like a rag doll, but he always recovers with, seemingly, no lasting effects. There are some good if overwrought lines (“A cloud of nightmarish déjà vu instantly filled the cabin”), and the writing is generally up to the job despite occasional typos. At the climax, all seems lost, but we have learned by now to trust in the hokey faith that Franz has instilled in us.

Although much of this is cartoonishly over-the-top, there is surely an enthusiastic audience for it.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-09-837913-1

Page Count: 308

Publisher: BookBaby

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2021

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Well-drawn characters introduce the criminal underworld to the occult kind in a breathless and compelling plot.

HELL BENT

From the Alex Stern series , Vol. 2

A Yale sophomore fights for her life as she balances academics with supernatural extracurriculars in this smart fantasy thriller, the second in a series.

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is a member of Lethe House, the ninth of Yale’s secret societies. And not just any member—she’s Virgil, the officer who conducts the society's rituals. In the world of Bardugo’s Alex Stern series, Yale’s secret societies command not just powerful social networks, but actual magic; it’s Lethe’s job to keep that magic in control. Alex is new to the role. She had to take over in a hurry after the previous Virgil, Darlington, her mentor and love interest, disappeared in a cliffhanger at the end of the first book. He appears to be in hell, but is he stuck there for good? Alex and Pamela Dawes—Lethe’s Oculus, or archivist/administrator—have found a reference to a pathway called a Gauntlet that can open a portal to hell, but can they find the Gauntlet itself? And what about the four murderers the Gauntlet ritual requires? Meanwhile, Alex’s past as a small-time drug dealer is catching up with her, adding gritty street crime to the demonic white-collar evil the Yale crowd tends to prefer. The plot is relentless and clever, and the writing is vivid, intelligent, and funny at just the right moments, but best of all are the complex characters, such as the four murderers, each with a backstory that makes it possible for the reader to trust them to enter hell and have the strength to leave again. Like the first book, this one ends with a cliffhanger.

Well-drawn characters introduce the criminal underworld to the occult kind in a breathless and compelling plot.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2023

ISBN: 978-1-250-31310-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2022

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A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

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FAIRY TALE

Narnia on the Penobscot: a grand, and naturally strange, entertainment from the ever prolific King.

What’s a person to do when sheltering from Covid? In King’s case, write something to entertain himself while reflecting on what was going on in the world outside—ravaged cities, contentious politics, uncertainty. King’s yarn begins in a world that’s recognizably ours, and with a familiar trope: A young woman, out to buy fried chicken, is mashed by a runaway plumber’s van, sending her husband into an alcoholic tailspin and her son into a preadolescent funk, driven “bugfuck” by a father who “was always trying to apologize.” The son makes good by rescuing an elderly neighbor who’s fallen off a ladder, though he protests that the man’s equally elderly German shepherd, Radar, was the true hero. Whatever the case, Mr. Bowditch has an improbable trove of gold in his Bates Motel of a home, and its origin seems to lie in a shed behind the house, one that Mr. Bowditch warns the boy away from: “ ‘Don’t go in there,’ he said. ‘You may in time, but for now don’t even think of it.’ ” It’s not Pennywise who awaits in the underworld behind the shed door, but there’s plenty that’s weird and unexpected, including a woman, Dora, whose “skin was slate gray and her face was cruelly deformed,” and a whole bunch of people—well, sort of people, anyway—who’d like nothing better than to bring their special brand of evil up to our world’s surface. King’s young protagonist, Charlie Reade, is resourceful beyond his years, but it helps that the old dog gains some of its youthful vigor in the depths below. King delivers a more or less traditional fable that includes a knowing nod: “I think I know what you want,” Charlie tells the reader, "and now you have it”—namely, a happy ending but with a suitably sardonic wink.

A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-66800-217-9

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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