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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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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