Sketch out some exotic, ephemeral settings, make every villain as nasty as possible, and it’s another of Cussler’s...

ODESSA SEA

Cussler’s conglomerate (Built to Thrill, 2016, etc.) gives fans their money’s worth with 500 pages chronicling Dirk Pitt’s Black Sea adventures while hopscotching back to the Russian Revolution, then up to today’s Iranian quest for nuclear weapons, and throwing in a rogue terror attack on the United States for good measure.

Dirk and his longtime lieutenant, the rugged Al Giordino, are sailing the Black Sea because his National Underwater and Marine Agency has been contracted by Bulgaria to seek an Ottoman-era shipwreck. They answer a distress call from a ship they find full of dead bodies and highly enriched uranium, which turns out to have been purloined from unstable Ukraine by cohorts of Valentin Mankedo, a Bulgarian black-market smuggler, and destined for Iran. Meanwhile, Dirk junior and twin sister Summer work the Baltic Sea, where they stumble on shadowy hints of a trove of 1917 Romanov gold bullion. The second nefarious Mankedo enterprise troubling Pitt’s crew is the salvage of an atomic weapon from a Soviet 1955 bomber crash. Mankedo’s been financed by Martin Hendriks, tech billionaire and cutting-edge Peregrine drone manufacturer, whose devious plans include an elaborate false-flag operation. The A-bomb is usable because it’s been submerged in "anoxic waters…loaded with hydrogen sulfide," so oxygen-deprived that it prevents corrosion. There are the usual esoteric Cussler-style science and historical factoids to spice up the story, but to spark the hunt for the czar’s gold, he imagines a Proposed Treaty of Petrograd which send the younger Pitts seeking the bullion in secret tunnels burrowing through the Rock of Gibraltar. In one storyline or the other, there are cinematic boat chases, nighttime commando raids, dueling research submersibles, a secret trip to Bermuda, and a Chesapeake Bay battle involving the Civil War sloop USS Constellation.

Sketch out some exotic, ephemeral settings, make every villain as nasty as possible, and it’s another of Cussler’s cinematic-style entertainments spinning out at hold-on-to-your-hat speed.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-57551-8

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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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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Brown’s ear for Texas dialect and her earnest characterizations of cynical lawmen with stout hearts make for an enjoyable...

TOUGH CUSTOMER

A manhunt for a homicidal stalker reunites an ex-cop and his long-lost daughter, in Brown’s latest thriller (Rainwater, 2009).

Private eye Dodge Hanley, who left the Houston police for Atlanta years before, is summoned back to Texas by his long-ago flame Caroline King, now a successful realtor. Caroline wants Dodge, who once rescued her from an abusive fiancé, to lend his sleuthing skills to find Oren Starks, the man who burst in on her daughter Berry and Berry’s co-worker Ben at Caroline’s lake house near the small town of Merritt. Shooting and wounding Ben, Oren fled, but not before vowing to murder Berry. A dismissed co-worker at the Houston marketing firm where Berry and Ben work, Oren was unhinged by his thwarted efforts to woo Berry and another colleague, Sally Buckland. Dodge (who, unbeknownst to Berry, is her father) and local deputy Ski Nyland join forces to track Oren down. Ski’s call to Sally finds her strangely reluctant to corroborate her previous claim of sexual harassment against Oren, perhaps because Oren has a gun to her head during the call. Despite a leg injury sustained at Caroline’s house, Oren confounds pursuers by somehow managing to be in several places at once. He breaks into a Merritt motel room, fatally wounding a teenager who surprises him there. Sally’s body is found hanging in the closet of Berry’s Houston home. Oren takes an elderly couple hostage in a campground, and kills again before disappearing into the Big Thicket, a treacherous, swampy national park. Brown’s trademark romance spiced with raunch serves her well as she orchestrates two parallel lust stories: Caroline’s and Dodge’s passionate but brief encounter in 1978, and the present frisson between Berry and Dodge’s younger doppelgänger, hard-boiled cop Ski. The narrative, slowed by too many talky scenes and descriptive filler, eventually rewards readers’ patience with a bang-up surprise ending. 

Brown’s ear for Texas dialect and her earnest characterizations of cynical lawmen with stout hearts make for an enjoyable summer read.

Pub Date: Aug. 12, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4165-6310-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2010

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