A pretty good thriller in an informative historical setting.

RED TRAITOR

A fictionalized account of the Cuban missile crisis from the Soviet perspective.

Fresh from a triumphant case involving a Soviet nuclear superbomb, Alexander Vasin of the Special Cases directorate of the KGB is attempting to catch a high-level spy. Oleg Morozov of the GRU is believed to be passing secrets to the Americans, but all Vasin’s efforts to uncover the traitor have so far yielded nothing. Vasin feels a particular urgency to succeed because his own boss, Gen. Orlov, is locked in mortal bureaucratic combat with Morozov’s boss, Gen. Serov. As Vasin pursues his quarry, he uncovers evidence that the Politburo has authorized the shipment and installation of nuclear missiles in Cuba. In a separate plot development, a flotilla of four Soviet submarines, each one carrying a single nuclear torpedo in addition to its conventional torpedoes, is deployed toward Cuba. As Vasin uncovers more and more of this unsettling situation, he comes to believe that the American government needs to be informed, and he begins to try to use Morozov as a conduit. The discovery of the missiles in Cuba precipitates a diplomatic crisis, but cooler heads eventually prevail over the hawkish Soviet faction. The submarines, however, present another threat. Submerged and beyond communication, they do not require confirmatory orders to use their weapons, and when the U.S. “quarantine” corrals them, the possibility of a nuclear exchange looms. Matthews has done solid historical research—in many cases his characters bear the names of the actual participants—and the fictionalization is deft, but his need to represent all the moving parts detracts from the effect of the whole. Though the matter is momentous, less might have been more.

A pretty good thriller in an informative historical setting.

Pub Date: July 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-385-54342-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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Space nerds will geek out, and everyone else eventually gets a pretty good ride.

THE APOLLO MURDERS

A vast Cold War space thriller from astronaut Hadfield.

Incorporating real-life characters and events, spanning decades and distances both terrestrial and translunar, this NASA-heavy thriller has everything, including perhaps a bit too many meticulously reported technical procedures. The story opens with not one but two aircraft episodes—a bird strike wrecks an F-4 Phantom and a Cessna 170B is taken out for a rhapsodic spin—then follows the developing career of Kaz Zemeckis, who, until the bird strike cost him an eye, had been a military astronaut with good prospects of going to the moon. Repurposed as a crew liaison for NASA, Zemeckis is involved in both the training for and the mission of Apollo 18. Hadfield's use of real people brings historical authenticity to the novel, and there are many tidbits of NASA lore that only an insider could provide, but the devotion to technical facts has some drawbacks. There are more moving parts to this novel than there are in a Saturn V, and Hadfield is careful to give each part a complete description: provenance, purpose, design, and in-use characteristics are all faithfully recorded. This makes the first part of the novel so technically focused that it seems the action will never get off the launchpad, though doubtless there are readers who will revel in these details. In the event, Apollo 18 is a complex mission. Initially charged with collecting geological samples and sabotaging the new Russian moon rover, the three astronauts are then told to sabotage the Russians' new spy satellite, which is thought to be unmanned but is not. The crisis created by this bungled attempt at space vandalism establishes the main narrative thread, with Zemeckis back at Mission Control in Houston struggling to keep the mission going. There is a murder and other deaths as well as injuries, vomiting, and space brawls, all reported in close detail. Though the climax is somewhat over-the-top, the basic bones of a good thriller are here even if the beginning is a slow burn.

Space nerds will geek out, and everyone else eventually gets a pretty good ride.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-31626-453-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2021

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Greed, love, and extrasensory abilities combine in two middling mysteries.

LABYRINTH

Coulter’s treasured FBI agents take on two cases marked by danger and personal involvement.

Dillon Savitch and his wife, Lacey Sherlock, have special abilities that have served them well in law enforcement (Paradox, 2018, etc.). But that doesn't prevent Sherlock’s car from hitting a running man after having been struck by a speeding SUV that runs a red light. The runner, though clearly injured, continues on his way and disappears. Not so the SUV driver, a security engineer for the Bexholt Group, which has ties to government agencies. Sherlock’s own concussion causes memory loss so severe that she doesn’t recognize Savitch or remember their son, Sean. The whole incident seems more suspicious when a blood test from the splatter of the man Sherlock hit reveals that he’s Justice Cummings, an analyst for the CIA. The agency’s refusal to cooperate makes Savitch certain that Bexholt is involved in a deep-laid plot. Meanwhile, Special Agent Griffin Hammersmith is visiting friends who run a cafe in the touristy Virginia town of Gaffers Ridge. Hammersmith, who has psychic abilities, is taken aback when he hears in his mind a woman’s cry for help. Reporter Carson DeSilva, who came to the area to interview a Nobel Prize winner, also has psychic abilities, and she overhears the thoughts of Rafer Bodine, a young man who has apparently kidnapped and possibly murdered three teenage girls. Unluckily, she blurts out her thoughts, and she’s snatched and tied up in a cellar by Bodine. Bodine may be a killer, but he’s also the nephew of the sheriff and the son of the local bigwig. So the sheriff arrests Hammersmith and refuses to accept his FBI credentials. Bodine's mother has psychic powers strong enough to kill, but she meets her match in Hammersmith, DeSilva, Savitch, and Sherlock.

Greed, love, and extrasensory abilities combine in two middling mysteries.

Pub Date: July 30, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-9365-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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