Review by New York Times Review
THE WORLD IS a messy, chaotic place these days, full of new threats and unpredictable crises. As President Obama said during a 2014 fund-raising event, "Part of people's concern is just the sense that around the world the old order isn't holding." That may be bad news for politicians, but it has proved a boon to thriller writers. There are just so many potential threats to choose from! So many different ways to place a person - or people - in peril. And they are pretty much all on display in the panoply of offerings for summer escapism. Starting with the classic bad guys: the K.G.B. In THE 14TH COLONY (Minotaur, $27.99), Steve Berry summons the antiquarian bookseller and superspy Cotton Malone for the 11th time, now pitting him against similarly "retired" relics of the Soviet Union who hope to fulfill the promise of an unfinished Cold War conspiracy to destabilize the United States. Also present are Malone's usual cast of supporting characters: Stephanie Nelle, the head of the Magellan Billet (the Justice Department's endangered international investigative unit); her would-be boyfriend, the lame duck President Danny Daniels; Daniels's nephew, Luke, a Magellan Billet agent; and Malone's extraordinarily named, very wealthy, on-and-off love interest, the daredevil historical preservationist Cassiopeia Vitt. The characters aren't the only familiar touch here. Berry also returns to his favorite plot device: resurrecting a long-buried historical secret upon which potential disaster rests. The secret this time is a scenario first understood - and then hidden - by America's oldest fraternal organization, the Society of the Cincinnati. Turns out the founding fathers made one very big planning mistake: If the president and the vice president die at the same time on Inauguration Day before taking the oath of office, the result is a leaderless government and a constitutional crisis. For enemies of the state, that can mean only one thing: opportunity. According to "The 14th Colony," the old Soviets discovered the oversight, and their rogue agents have decided to finally take revenge on the United States for what is presented as the subterfuge cooked up between Ronald Reagan and the pope that led to the fall of the U.S.S.R. (Anyone not a fan of the 40th president is hereby warned that in this book, he's a genius.) Their weapons: decades-old nuclear suitcase bombs, which were hidden on American soil long ago, and sleeper agents. The suspense: Who will get to them first? The fact that the book is being published during an election year when we are about to have a lame duck president should make the worst-case scenario feel especially relevant, particularly with recent revelations about the real White House's meticulous transition planning in response to terrorism. But compared with the terrorists of today, Berry's villains are so creaky, they seem less threatening than quaint. Of course, there is an antagonist even more old-school than the Kremlin, and that is the Devil himself. He is the subject of Karen Hall's DARK DEBTS (Simon & Schuster, $27), a pulpy theological horror story that was a big hit when it was originally published in 1996 and that has been reissued this year with a new ending and newly fleshed-out characters. Included in the boiling pot - or plot - are a cursed blue-collar Georgia family consisting of the parents and four sons, though only one of the six survives the opening pages; a sexy former Jesuit priest who also works as a journalist; assorted other clergymen; small-town denizens of the sort who hang out in diners and trailer parks; a demon or two; and one beautiful reporter named Randa, who dates the surviving member of the ill-fated family (and who used to date his brother, until suicide intervened). The big questions range from the "who done it?" to the existential. Did the suicide victim actually kill himself, or did an evil force drive him to it? What is that force? What does God demand from his children? Unfortunately, Hall gives all of these questions equal weight, which tends to undermine the book's loftier philosophical aspirations, as does the presence of ye olde Devil-worshipping sex cult. In the end, this update is caught between its high and low impulses, and feels more like the rehashed "Exorcist" than like the moody first season of "True Detective." Its demons are predictable, down to their growling voices and evil laughs, especially in comparison with devils that may be closer to home - or actually in your home, or at least the home you married into. How much we really know those we love, and their families, is the subtext of Harlan Coben's latest roller coaster ride, FOOL ME ONCE (Dutton, $28) - though bad guys also make an appearance, including a WikiLeaks-style whistle-blower and a greedy industrial titan. Pick your poison. Maya Stern is a former special-ops helicopter pilot, now a suburban flight instructor and mother, who was forced out of the military when the whistle-blower posted a video online of her ordering an airstrike that killed a number of unarmed Iraqi civilians. As is the wont in such books, death follows her home, and the story opens with the murder of her husband, scion of a wealthy Establishment family, by masked gunmen. (It turns out her older sister was also a murder victim, killed before the book begins, when Maya was still in combat.) Left a single mother with a small child and some residual PTSD, Maya installs a nanny cam in her den, and the next thing you know, her dead husband shows up, alive and on video. The twists begin there and don't stop until all the murders add up, company fraud is exposed, the rot at the heart of a twisted family is revealed and the rug is entirely pulled out from under the reader. It's a good thing, because the effort required to pick your jaw up off the floor masks the thinness of the characters, who function more as plot devices than fully realized people. Granted, thrillers aren't generally considered a genre that prioritizes multidimensional protagonists. But as Elizabeth Brundage proves in the literary mystery ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR (Knopf, $26.95), it doesn't need to be that way. Indeed, as much as anything, this is a character sketch: of a marriage, a sociopath, a family destroyed by the economy, the things we do for love - all finely drawn within the confined environment of a creaking old farmhouse on a homestead in a town far, far away. The better to scare you with, my dear. The story begins, once again, with a death - a gruesome one, involving an ax in a young mother's head - then cycles backward in time to how it happened, playing peekaboo with the motivations and history of its cast: the grieving widower, a professor at a local college; his lovely wife, a.k.a the victim; their young daughter; and the three damaged brothers who once lived in their home and act as their babysitters and renovation team, and whose parents committed suicide. All of the above are sympathetic and suspicious in equal measure, a result of Brundage's ability to peel away the onionskin layers of emotion that define any relationship. As the clues accumulate and the killer is revealed, the truth becomes both horrifying and inevitable. In the end, justice is done and redemption found, though not as one might expect, which makes the book all the more satisfying. Sometimes, as the cliché goes, we are our own worst enemies. And sometimes we work with them, as Will Rhodes discovers in THE TRAVELERS (Crown, $27). Rhodes is the hero of this book, Chris Pavone's third thriller, though "hero" may be a bit of a stretch. Pavone's great skill is in rendering believable people in impossible and occasionally absurd situations, and "The Travelers" is no exception. Indeed, it may involve his most far-fetched premise yet. Travel writers of the National Geographic-meets-Departures kind populate the book, with Will as the exemplar. He is the employee of a magazine called (surprise) Travelers: a man with a big expense account, a small salary, a mysterious boss who keeps disappearing into a hidden back room, and a disgruntled wife - who was also a Travelers writer until she left her job for "other opportunities," as yet unspecified. On a junket to French wine country Will meets a gorgeous Australian, and though he refrains from breaking his wedding vows, when he encounters her again on a trip to Argentina he gives in to temptation, an act that has some unexpected repercussions. Needless to say, no one's job is quite what readers might assume. Simply consider the fact that Travelers is a magazine where communications are delivered by hand, by couriers, in sealed envelopes, as opposed to email or mobile phone. And it seems to suffer not at all from the current economic malaise affecting its competitors, and for that matter old media in general. It's enough to make anyone raise an eyebrow. Turns out travel writing is great cover for all sorts of clandestine activity, both official and not, and Will gets sucked right in. He's almost determinedly naïve (one of the reasons he was hired, apparently, and the reader will guess what everyone is up to long before our hero does), though he also proves surprisingly adept at learning the particulars of self-defense, surreptitious photography and other illicit skills - as do many of his colleagues, who turn out to be not so deskbound after all. It's all highly entertaining and more than a little fantastic. But it's easy to suspend your disbelief in sheer enjoyment at Pavone's use of language, not to mention a James Bond-worthy itinerary that takes the otherwise ink-stained wretch from Brooklyn to Paris by way of Dublin, a Russian billionaire's yacht and a remote village in Iceland, as he evades a variety of secret-service types, enforcers and that even more frightening contemporary golem, the megalomaniac businessman. Titans of finance on the loose are, it turns out, pretty devious beings, but even more terrifying nowadays are germs, especially the kind that leap the species barrier. Those are the villains in Justin Cronin's trilogy about survival, faith and human spirit, "The Passage," which has finally drawn to its conclusion in THE CITY OF MIRRORS (Ballantine, $28), after six years, a Hollywood option and thousands of pages. The story of an outbreak that started as a military experiment gone awry, decimating the human population by turning it into vampires, and the heroic efforts of the few remaining survivors to remain human (literally and emotionally), it's pretty much "Twilight" meets the Bible meets "The Hot Zone." That sounds messy, but it has proved a surprisingly powerful formula. The final installment begins in the year 98 A.V. - After Virus - a time when the 12 original sources of infection, or apostles of destruction, have been killed thanks to a young Jesus figure named Amy, who sacrificed herself to save mankind. The surviving small community of humans, living in the Texas Republic, are beginning to feel complacent and let their guard down, clearly a sign that something is about to go wrong. Which, of course, it does. It turns out the vamps are not gone, merely biding their time, because the original carrier, the "Zero" who brought the disease from the jungles of Bolivia and started it all, has been hiding out in the ruins of Grand Central Terminal, nursing his grievances and preparing for a final battle. His great love was taken from him when he was still human, and he wants everyone to feel his pain; though it's not the most original motivation, it is effective. When Amy returns for the final showdown, to stand for and then with her friends, the lines between good and evil are blurred. It would be unfair to reveal who dies and who lives, but chances are you can guess the outcome of the last battle - though said battle is not itself the end of the book. Instead there is an epilogue after a coda after a conclusion, as if the author could not quite bring himself to say goodbye to the world he had imagined. That's understandable: Lengthy as the book is, it is also compulsively readable. In the end, a subplot involving the transformation of a giant shipwreck into a usable ark meant to take a small slice of humanity to a virus-free island off the coast of Australia provides resolution - or at least a reason for Cronin to fast-forward to 1003 A.V. Amy herself has become legend, giving rise to a sect of "Ammalites," scientists who study "The Book of Twelves" and a mystical finale that is both manipulative and strangely moving. By the time you've made your way through it, you'll never look at a bat in quite the same way again. Similarly, Rosamund Lupton's THE QUALITY OF SILENCE (Crown, $26), an eerie eco-tale of disasters both real and man-made on the frozen tundra of Alaska, may make you rethink the popular perception of snow as innocuous white fluffy stuff. The isolated woman on her own and in danger is standard thriller fare, but here it is given new life by geography, profession - the woman in question, Yasmin Alfredson, is an astrophysicist - and the addition of a deaf 10-year-old daughter. Yasmin has brought her child to Fairbanks from England to visit her husband, who has been making a documentary on Alaskan wildlife and living with a native tribe, but immediately after they land they are told he has been killed in a fire that wiped out the village. Refusing to believe the local authorities, sympathetic though they seem, Yasmin and her daughter embark on what becomes an epic journey in a stolen truck into the wilderness - and the politics of fracking - to track him down. It seems like a fool's adventure, except the alternating voices of mother and daughter are so compelling, it's hard not to want to go along for the ride. As they drive, pursued by another truck and with warnings of dire weather ahead, the book skates smoothly over issues of environmentalism, tribal rights and the relationship of the deaf and hearing worlds, including the question of what it means to have a "voice." The temperature drops, the action heats up and the suspense builds with the storm, speckled by alluring scientific tidbits on the subjects of stars and species. Following her own moral compass, Yasmin, it turns out, knew what she was doing all along, and the real criminals are those who disguise selfish intentions, both financial and personal, in the rhetoric of selflessness. Even a white-out can't hide the darkness within. It's a pointed reminder that between Soviets, viruses and sociopaths, it may be the unknown that is scariest of all. VANESSA FRIEDMAN is the fashion critic of The Times.
Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [June 5, 2016]
Review by Booklist Review
Combat pilot Maya Burkett's last mission ended in tragedy, with civilians killed during a rescue of stranded soldiers. Now, in best-selling Coben's latest, she's settling into a new life with her husband, Joe, and two-year-old daughter, Lily until she witnesses her husband's murder. Suddenly a single mother, plagued by nightmares and PTSD, Maya accepts the gift of a nanny cam disguised as a picture frame to help her keep an eye on her daughter while she's at work. Her life seems calmer, until she checks the cam's video images and sees her husband. Could he really be alive? Or is someone trying to convince her she's losing her mind? The video galvanizes Maya, and she becomes a woman with a mission, armed and dangerous, as she looks for answers among dark secrets from the past. Coben excels in setting up the requisite whom-can-she-trust scenario. The pace never falters, buoyed by Maya's urgent investigations and the myriad plot twists, which keep readers off balance, wondering what's happening and whom to believe. Coben is one of those genre authors who has crossed over to mainstream popularity and just keeps building his brand. No changes here.--Saricks, Joyce Copyright 2016 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
In his new thriller, a seemingly unsolvable puzzle isn't so unsolvable. Two weeks after witnessing her husband, Joe, murdered in Central Park, retired special-ops Army Captain Maya Stern consults her newly installed nanny cam and sees Joe enter their living room with their two-year-old daughter. Is it possible Joe survived? Is she losing her mind? Is someone trying to fool her? (The title gives that last one away.) The question becomes, who's trying to fool her, and why? Reader LaVoy does a masterly job of ginning up genuine suspense and adding much-needed heft to characters so gossamer they threaten to blow off the page. The author did make his protagonist, Maya, fully dimensional, but it's LaVoy's impassioned enactment of her trials and tribulations that makes the listener care what happens to her. A Dutton hardcover. (Mar.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
Maya Stern Burkett has known death. As a former army special ops pilot, she recognizes it's just part of the job, but in her civilian life she never expected to lose both her husband and her sister to murder. Though they each died at different times and under different circumstances, Maya is still forced to carry on as a single mother to her own daughter, Lily, and help raise her sister's two kids. She installs a nanny cam in her living room, disguised as a digital picture, and who does she see but her late husband playing with her daughter. Maya is thrown into a spiral of disbelief and becomes obsessed with finding answers. As she uncovers hard truths about her family and herself, Maya's life is in jeopardy, and time is running out. Verdict Coben (The Stranger) has done it again with this fast-paced smart thriller. Fans and those new to Coben will devour this stand-alone. [A March LibraryReads Pick.]-Cynthia Price, Francis Marion Univ. Lib., Florence, SC © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Coben (The Stranger, 2015, etc.) hits the bull's eye again with this taut tale of a disgraced combat veteran whose homefront life is turned upside down by an image captured by her nanny cam. Recent widows can't be too careful, and the day she buries the husband who was shot by a pair of muggers in Central Park, Maya Burkett installs a concealed camera in her home to keep an eye on Lily, her 2-year-old daughter, and her nanny, Isabella Mendez , while she's out at her job as a flight instructor. She's shocked beyond belief when she checks the footage and sees images of her murdered husband returned from the grave to her den. Confronted with the video, Isabella claims she doesn't see anything that looks like Joe Burkett, then blasts Maya with pepper spray and takes off with the memory card. Should Maya go to the police? They were no help when her sister, Claire, was killed in a home invasion while she was deployed in the Middle East, and she doesn't trust Roger Kierce, the NYPD homicide detective heading the investigation of Joe's murder. Besides, Maya's already juggling a heavy load of baggage. Whistle-blower Corey Rudzinski ended her military career when he posted footage of her ordering a defensive airstrike that killed five civilians, and she's just waiting for him to release the audio feed that would damage her reputation even more. So after Kierce drops a bombshellthe same gun was used to shoot both Joe and ClaireMaya launches her own investigation, little knowing that it will link both murders to the death more than 10 years ago of Joe's brother Andrew and the secrets the wealthy and powerful Burkett family has been hiding ever since. Once again, Coben marries his two greatest strengthsmasterfully paced plotting that leads to a climactic string of fireworks and the ability to root all the revelations in deeply felt emotionsin a tale guaranteed to fool even the craftiest readers a lot more than once. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.