On one level, it’s great entertainment; on another, a window into a sobering possibility.

NEVER

A complex, scary thriller that feels too plausible for comfort.

Republican President Pauline Green is trying to steer the United States through a dangerous world. China spends billions in Africa to extend its global influence, while North African countries like Chad are beset by criminals and terrorists. But that’s secondary to the real problem: Rebels in North Korea try to overthrow the Communist dynasty and reunite the North and South, which scares the bejesus out of China. They fear the peninsula’s reunification, “a euphemism for takeover by the capitalist West.” The Chinese believe America and Europe want to destroy China “and would stop at nothing," so the last thing they need is a bordering nation with West-leaning sympathies. And domestically, Green faces “blowhard” wannabe president Sen. James Moore, who thinks there’s no point in having nukes if you won’t use them. Even her personal life is complicated: Her husband “was a good lover, but she had never wanted to tear his clothes off with her teeth.” In fact, the first spouses are quietly drifting apart. Yet she “could not fall in love” with another man. “It would be a hurricane, a train crash, a nuclear bomb.” Speaking of which, both superpowers have ironclad commitments to protect their allies, even if some crazy third parties get their hands on nuclear weapons. Will China and the U.S. be drawn into all-out war neither wants? This novel deals with the same great-power issues as Elliot Ackerman and James Stavridis’ recent 2034, and both will give you the willies. Follett could have cut back on the North African subplot and delivered a tighter yarn, but then you mightn’t have learned that “a helicopter glides like a grand piano.” Anyway, that’s Follett: You’ll be so absorbed in the story threads that you’ll follow them anywhere—and you’ll suddenly realize you’ve read hundreds of pages.

On one level, it’s great entertainment; on another, a window into a sobering possibility.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-59-330001-5

Page Count: 816

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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Enjoyable storytelling by two masters of the craft.

22 SECONDS

Lindsay Boxer faces a ton of trouble in the latest entry in Patterson and Paetro’s Women’s Murder Club series.

Senior crime reporter Cindy Thomas is writing a biography of Evan Burke, a notorious serial killer who sits in solitary confinement in San Quentin. She’s kidnapped by thugs wanting her to talk about her best friend, Lindsay Boxer, who’s an SFPD homicide detective and the story’s main character. San Francisco has a restrictive new gun law, and gun-totin’ folks everywhere have their boxer shorts in a twist. A national resistance movement has formed—Defenders of the Second—whose motto is “We will not comply.” They find it outrageous that the new law makes it illegal to own a gun that can kill 50 people with a single clip. Meanwhile, lots of bodies show up: A young girl disappears and is later found dead in a ditch, and ex-cops are found dead with their lips stapled shut and “You talk, you die” written on their foreheads. An inmate is found hanged in prison. And “a massive but unspecified load of military-style weaponry was en route from Mexico to the City by the Bay.” In a “frustrating, multipronged case,” there’s a harrowing shootout memorialized in a video showing “twenty-two of the scariest seconds” of Boxer’s life. She’s an appealing series hero with loving family and friends, but she may arrive at a crossroads where she has “to choose between my work and [my] baby girl.” The formulaic story has unmemorable writing, but it’s entertaining and well told. You probably won’t have to worry about the main characters, who have thus far survived 21 adventures. Except for the little girl, you can expect people to get what they deserve. It's relatively mild as crime novels go, but the women characters are serious, strong, and admirable.

Enjoyable storytelling by two masters of the craft.

Pub Date: May 2, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-49937-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

DREAM TOWN

An old-fashioned gumshoe yarn about Hollywood dreams and dead bodies.

Private investigator Aloysius Archer celebrates New Year’s Eve 1952 in LA with his gorgeous lady friend and aspiring actress Liberty Callahan. Screenwriter Eleanor Lamb shows up and offers to hire him because “someone might be trying to kill me.” “I’m fifty a day plus expenses,” he replies, but money’s no obstacle. Later, he sneaks into Lamb’s house and stumbles upon a body, then gets knocked out by an unseen assailant. Archer takes plenty of physical abuse in the story, but at least he doesn’t get a bullet between the eyes like the guy he trips over. A 30-year-old World War II combat veteran, Archer is a righteous and brave hero. Luck and grit keep him alive in both Vegas and the City of Angels, which is rife with gangsters and crooked cops. Not rich at all, his one luxury is the blood-red 1939 Delahaye he likes to drive with the top down. He’d bought it with his gambling winnings in Reno, and only a bullet hole in the windscreen post mars its perfection. Liberty loves Archer, but will she put up with the daily danger of losing him? Why doesn’t he get a safe job, maybe playing one of LA’s finest on the hit TV show Dragnet? Instead, he’s a tough and principled idealist who wants to make the world a better place. Either that or he’s simply a “pavement-pounding PI on a slow dance to maybe nowhere.” And if some goon doesn’t do him in sooner, his Lucky Strikes will probably do him in later. Baldacci paints a vivid picture of the not-so-distant era when everybody smoked, Joe McCarthy hunted commies, and Marilyn Monroe stirred men’s loins. The 1950s weren’t the fabled good old days, but they’re fodder for gritty crime stories of high ideals and lowlifes, of longing and disappointment, and all the trouble a PI can handle.

Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

Pub Date: April 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5387-1977-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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