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The Siren

Katherine St. John. Grand Central, $28 (416p) ISBN 978-1-5387-3368-4

St. John delivers on the promise of her 2020 debut, The Lion’s Den, with this superb tale of revenge and unbridled ego. Actor Cole Power, who at 49 is still considered by many to be one of the sexiest men in Hollywood, is financing a film titled The Siren that was written by his son, a recent film school graduate, who will also direct. Cole’s ex-wife, Stella Rivers, who’s counting on the movie to revive her flagging career, will star opposite Cole. Taylor Wasserman, the producer, is also desperate for a hit after being fired from her previous job amid rumors of embezzlement. Also involved are Felicity Fox, Stella’s beautiful new assistant who seems too good to be true, and social media influencer Madison Kasabian, whose vanity knows no bounds. The troupe assembles on the Caribbean island of Saint Genesius, and the scene is set for action, intrigue, murder, and heart-stopping adventure. St. John keeps readers deliciously off-balance with each new revelation about the characters and their motives, as revealed through the alternating viewpoints of Stella, Felicity, and Taylor. This is pure, riveting entertainment. Agent: Sarah Bedingfield, Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 03/19/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Saboteurs: An Isaac Bell Adventure

Clive Cussler and Jack Du Brul. Putnam, $29 (400p) ISBN 978-0-593-19122-4

It’s 1914, and bestseller Cussler’s top-notch 12th Isaac Bell adventure (after 2019’s The Titanic Secret, also coauthored with Du Brul) finds detective Bell and his wife, Marion, in Panama after foiling an attempt on the life of a U.S. senator in San Diego, Calif., by a Panamanian insurgent group. Meanwhile, Teddy Roosevelt is on his way to Panama to view the Panama Canal, which is still under construction, and a German industrialist, who was behind an earlier effort to assassinate the former American president, is going to try again. In short order, Bell is buried alive, loses his memory, and is thrown into jail. On top of all that, Marion is kidnapped. After Bell escapes and his memory is restored, he sets out to rescue Marion. Along the way, he untangles a complex plot that aims to destroy the canal. Against a colorful backdrop of Panama Canal lore, the action builds to a classic scene of hand-to-hand combat aboard a dirigible that could explode at any moment. Cussler fans will be well satisfied. Agent: Peter Lampack, Peter Lampack Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/19/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Against the Law: A Joe the Bouncer Novel

David Gordon. Mysterious, $25.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-61316-226-2

Edgar finalist Gordon’s audacious third novel featuring strip club bouncer Joe Brody (after 2019’s The Hard Stuff) takes Brody to Afghanistan, where he once suffered mental and physical trauma while serving as a U.S. Special Forces operative. In Helmand Province, Brody awaits a heroin deal to be completed so that he can gun down the person he expects will steal the drugs, Zahir the Shadow, who has been hijacking narcotics and using them to fund terror attacks. Zahir’s identity proves a surprise, but that reveal is merely the prologue to a race to avert a mass casualty event in Manhattan, which again partners Brody with attractive FBI agent Donna Zamora, who’s emotionally entangled with him. Some readers may not care for Brody’s insouciant attitude. “Now assassinating drug lords with terrorist ties was more like a hobby, something he did part-time when he wasn’t busy with his regular gig, as a bouncer at a strip club in Queens.” This one’s for those who don’t require realism in their thrillers. (May)

Reviewed on 03/19/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Phase Six

Jim Shepard. Knopf, $25.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-525-65545-9

In this disappointing apocalyptic thriller from Shepard (The Book of Aron), a pandemic—exponentially more lethal than Covid-19—originates in a remote Greenland village and spreads worldwide, infecting millions within weeks. Eleven-year old Aleq, one of the only survivors of the initial outbreak, may hold the key to finding a way to stop the seemingly uncontainable contagion. The CDC tasks two investigators, epidemiologist Jeannie Dziri and lab wonk Danice Torrone, to inspect the decimated village in hopes of finding clues to head off a looming global disaster. While Dziri tries to find insights in the emotionally battered boy’s memories, Torrone crunches data in a race against time as more people become sick and die horrific deaths. The author has clearly done some impressive research into infectious diseases, but some readers may have a visceral reaction—not so much because of the heartbreaking similarities to the coronavirus and the millions who have died because of it, but because of the plot’s predictability and the lack of an ending. Shepard has done better. (May)

Reviewed on 03/19/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Final Twist

Jeffery Deaver. Putnam, $28 (416p) ISBN 978-0-525-53913-1

Part one of MWA Grand Master Deaver’s subpar third thriller featuring professional reward-seeker Colter Shaw (after 2020’s The Goodbye Man), titled “The Mission,” includes the statement: “Time until the family dies: fifty-two hours.” The explanation for this countdown comes out gradually. At a house in San Francisco, Shaw is looking for evidence his murdered father left behind about BlackBridge Corporate Solutions, whose machinations include flooding select neighborhoods with cheap drugs to drive down the price of real estate for predatory developers. His search almost proves fatal, and he narrowly escapes death from BlackBridge operatives when his estranged older brother, Russell, intervenes. A bad guy Russell kills carries a note indicating that a “kill order” has been placed on someone with the initials SP and SP’s entire family. Neither the race to save those targeted within 52 hours nor the Shaw brothers’ campaign to take down BlackBridge is as creative as the plots of Deaver’s best work. The result is more familiar than surprising. Agent: Deborah Schneider, Gelfman Schneider Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 03/19/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Photographer

Mary Dixie Carter. Minotaur, $27.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-79033-0

Delta Dawn, the narrator of Carter’s outstanding debut, is a much-sought-after photographer of children’s fetes among Brooklyn’s artsy set, who has the ability to create picture-perfect moments of connection that never were through the magic of Photoshop and other manipulations. Trouble is, the egocentric young woman approaches life in similarly subjective fashion. Emotionally starved by her own parents, Delta hungers for family—even if it means insinuating herself into someone else’s, like that of her new clients, the Straubs: interior design guru Amelia; Amelia’s scruffily hunky architect hubby, Fritz; and needy 11-year-old birthday girl, Natalie. Using her well-honed manipulative skills, plus a timely offer to babysit, Delta swiftly gains the run of the Straubs’ brownstone, as well as ample opportunity to discover some of their most intimate secrets—which she aims to leverage to her advantage. Delta—arguably the inevitable product of a social media–driven universe where carefully curated images supplant messy reality—becomes increasingly scary as the depth of her obsession with the Straubs becomes apparent. Brace for hold-your-breath suspense from this dazzlingly devious newcomer. Agent: Stephanie Kip Rostan, Levine Greenberg Rostan. (May)

Reviewed on 03/19/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Shadow Target

David Ricciardi. Berkley, $27 (464p) ISBN 978-1-9848-0469-3

Ricciardi’s decently plotted if somewhat predictable fourth Jake Keller thriller (after 2020’s Black Flag) opens with the crash of a small commercial plane in the French Alps, and only Jake, a member of the CIA’s Special Activities Center, walks away. Before a rescue helicopter can whisk him to safety, Jake observes two armed men looking for something or someone—maybe him. Jake’s survival is bad news for Russian oligarch Nikolai Kozlov, who wants him dead because he might cause problems for a planned assassination of a national leader in London. Fears that someone is after him along with a suspicion that a higher than normal number of his colleagues are dying prompt Jake to investigate, which leads to a lot of international travel, some muddy intra-agency intrigue, and substantial violence as Kozlov’s team tries to neutralize Jake. Jake may not have much depth, but many will applaud his forthright patriotism (“He had seen firsthand the evil in the world and felt it was his moral obligation to eradicate as much of it as he could”). This is an action movie in book form. Agent: Rick Richter, Aevitas Creative Management. (June)

Reviewed on 03/19/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Island of Coffins and Other Mysteries from the Casebook of Cabin B-13

John Dickson Carr. Crippen & Landru, $22 trade paper (340p) ISBN 978-1-936363-51-3

The unparalleled creativity in devising fiendishly clever plots that Carr (1906–1977) displayed in his novels and short stories is abundantly in evidence in this collection of 23 scripts from his 1940s radio series, Cabin B-13, discovered in the holdings of the Library of Congress. The eponymous cabin is the residence of John Fabian, an ocean liner’s surgeon who serves as each tale’s narrator. In the outstanding “The Man Who Couldn’t Be Photographed,” film star Bruce Ransom winds up in the bizarre situation of being informed by separate studio photographers in Paris that none of the images taken of him came out. As always, Carr’s explanation for the anomaly is logical, fairly clued, and surprising. Another highlight is “Death in the Desert,” which features six passengers on a Nile steamboat, one of whom dumps another’s corpse overboard. Carr’s trademark impossible crimes also get their due, as in “The Footprint in the Sky,” in which “guilt left a footprint where no human being ever walked.” The scripts are supplemented by commentary provided by mystery scholar Tony Medawar. The spare but sufficient prose makes the stories vivid, even without the originals’ aural component. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 03/12/2021 | Details & Permalink

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How to Betray Your Country

James Wolff. Bitter Lemon, $14.95 trade paper (310p) ISBN 978-1-913394-51-6

Wolff’s brilliant sequel to 2018’s Beside the Syrian Sea finds August Drummond, whose wife recently died in a traffic accident, sacked by British intelligence after striking a fellow officer during an inquest into August’s possible culpability in a series of Robin Hood incidents using classified material for the greater good. On a plane to Istanbul, where August is headed for a lackluster new job, he spots a fellow passenger who’s acting like an Islamic State recruit. On a whim, August assumes the man’s identity when he’s arrested at the airport. Securing a message that the hapless man has discarded, August goes to the assigned meeting place and ends up on a private quest to infiltrate what he assumes is an IS operation. His seeming competence begins to fail him as his obsession with his wife’s death and his recourse to alcohol take their toll. August narrates his own downfall, allowing readers to be as surprised as him when events take unexpected turns. Memos and communiques from British intelligence officials fill in the backstory. In August, Wolff skillfully portrays an espionage agent on the verge of losing himself to his demons. This is spy fiction like no other. (May)

Reviewed on 03/12/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Miranda and the D-Day Caper

Shelly Frome. BQB Publishing, $16.95 trade paper (338p) ISBN 978-1-945448-57-7

In Frome’s suspenseful sequel to 2018’s Moon Games, North Carolina real estate agent Miranda Davis receives a surprise visit from Skip, her cousin from New York, weeks after he sent her an email stating that he’d run across a press report about Miranda having cracked a cold case. Skip is feeling anxious about developments following a stint as a fill-in radio host. While making fun of right-wing pundit Russ Matthews, he jokingly suggested he knew about a plot based in Hoboken, N.J., a lie modeled on Matthews’s fearmongering. To Skip’s shock, that bit elicited hostile calls threatening him if he revealed more, which has led him to believe he accidentally stumbled on a terrorist plot. That belief is strengthened when his beloved cat is snatched. Miranda, though skeptical that something serious is going on, agrees to help. The plot takes numerous satisfying twists. Fans of spunky female leads will look forward to seeing more of Miranda. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 03/12/2021 | Details & Permalink

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