More of a novelty for political nerds than a compelling thriller.

STATE OF TERROR

An award-winning author teams up with a former secretary of state to pen a thriller about…a fictional secretary of state.

There are two types of people likely to pick up this book: those who enjoy thrillers and those looking for fresh insight into one of the most powerful political figures of the last 30 years. Neither is likely to be entirely pleased by this slow-moving tale. The setup is solid enough: Ellen Adams has just joined the new president’s administration when three Pakistani nuclear physicists are targeted by deadly explosions in London, Paris, and Frankfurt—an event that raises alarms about terrorists gaining possession of nuclear weapons. The first issue with this novel is that a secretary of state engages in a lot more talking than doing. The action, such as it is, occurs in scenes dominated by Adams’ adult children, and this presents readers with another problem. Her son, Gil, gets off the bus one of the physicists is riding seconds before it blows up. He escapes because his mom gets a tip from a staffer and gives him a call, but the ultimate source of the tip is anonymous and Gil’s reasons for being on that bus are unclear—and these unknowns are complicated by the fact that he’s a convert to Islam and Islamic extremists are implicated in the attacks. Katherine, the secretary's media-executive daughter, not only travels with her mother as she jets around the world, but also helps out with a little light espionage. The authors are asking readers to believe that Adams’ colleagues, her peers, and her boss—the president of the United States—are comfortable with her directing the American response to terrorist attacks in which her son was involved, nor do they stop her from treating a high-stakes global manhunt as Take Our Daughters to Work Day. This is all to say that sticking with the narrative means accepting that this is fantasy, not a revealing glimpse behind the curtain from Clinton. Indeed, it’s not hard to read many scenes as wish fulfillment. As the story progresses, Adams dispenses entirely with subtlety and discretion to dish out some no-holds-barred diplomacy. Adams also has a schoolteacher-turned-counselor named Betsy Jameson, a character based on Clinton’s real-life best friend, Betsy Ebeling. Betsy does some sleuthing, and her scenes will, perhaps, feel more familiar to Penny’s fans than the rest of the book. This cozy mystery element is just as fanciful as the rest, but there’s something satisfying about watching two middle-aged women save the world.

More of a novelty for political nerds than a compelling thriller.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982173-67-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster/St. Martin's Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A superficially gripping but psychologically unconvincing thriller.

SLEEPLESS

In present-day Germany, a woman burdened with the darkest of secrets from her brutal childhood becomes an unwitting participant in a fatal game of murder and deceit.

“You become normal by doing normal things,” Nadja Kulka’s therapist tells her, and for the most part the technique has worked. Nadja has a good job in the office of one of Berlin’s most successful lawyers and a secure if barren personal life. “I’m the woman who sits at the open window of her kitchen when she sees that her neighbour has friends over again on a Saturday night,” she explains. Social gatherings cause Nadja acute anxiety, and when the novel opens, she is in the grip of a panic attack that causes her to faint at a gas station and then to flee back onto the motorway, fearing that onlookers may have called the police. But why? And why is she wearing a blond wig? In this feverish, relentlessly tense novel, the answers to those and many other questions lie tangentially in Nadja’s past—to which the narrative cyclically returns—but more immediately in a sudden act of violence into which she is cruelly drawn. As dastardly events unfold, we are kept on edge not only by the author’s initially skillful evocation of Nadja’s troubled consciousness, but also by the novel’s restless shuttling between past and present. The eventual cinching together of near and distant events is clumsily handled, however, and the denouement utterly overwrought. A parallel plot involves the yearnings of a young woman who longs to escape her hometown backwater, embarks on an affair with a married visitor to her family’s inn, and pays a terrible price for her longings. Rather than enriching the novel, however, this drama, though potentially engrossing, seems more like a distraction.

A superficially gripping but psychologically unconvincing thriller.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-82479-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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