THE KEY TO REBECCA

If they liked it once, they'll love it twice. That's the wise rationale behind Follett's new WW II thriller, which recycles the same basic scenario—now in 1942 Cairo instead of 1944 England—that made Eye of the Needle such a winner. Again the central figure is a Nazi spy with secrets that could change history: Arab-German Achmed, a.k.a. Alex Wolff, is sent to his native Cairo (in the splendid opening, he walks there from Libya) to gather secrets from the British and broadcast them to Rommel in the desert, using pages of du Maurier's Rebecca for a code. And, after a few bumbles (he steals a briefcase full of army menus), Achmed/Alex is a success, thanks to his moll—bisexual, masochistic, Anglo-loathing belly-dancer Sonja; together they lure a wimpy British major into feverish liaisons with Sonja on her houseboat. . . while Alex steals secret papers from his briefcase. So Alex does broadcast to Rommel, who's thus able to win at Tobruk and Mersa Matruh, closing in on Cairo. But someone's after Alex, of course. William Vandam of Army Intelligence, an introverted widower with small son, has picked up the elusive spy's trail—a murder, forged currency—and almost captures him at a nightclub (Alex escapes, knifing Vandam in the face). Vandam's primary plan, however, involves Elene Fontana, an Egyptian-Jewish courtesan (eager for a new life in Palestine) who agrees to pose as a clerk at Alex's favorite grocery. And sure enough, just after getting the secrets of the El Alamein line from the Major (who is graphically drowned), Alex invites Elene to the houseboat for menage a  trois with Sonja. From there on, it's a pure (and pretty corny) Buchanesque chase: Vandam follows them to the boat; Alex grabs Elene and Vandam's little son, racing to where his spare radio is hidden; Vandam (now in love with Elene, and vice versa) pursues, determined to rescue his loved ones and to use Alex's radio to broadcast fake El Alamein info to Rommel. . . . The plotting's fine—except for a half-baked subplot about pro-Nazi nationalists, like young Sadat—and the characterization's serviceable, though lacking the gripping ambiguity of Needle's sympathetic villain. What's special here, however, is Follett's Ambler-ish feel for spying's unglamorous side, his subtle threading-through of the Rebecca motif (Vandam's late wife), his totally lean yet atmospheric narration. Top-notch entertainment—shrewdly paced, cannily crafted.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 1980

ISBN: 0451207793

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1980

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be...

BADLANDS

Box takes another break from his highly successful Joe Pickett series (Stone Cold, 2014, etc.) for a stand-alone about a police detective, a developmentally delayed boy, and a package everyone in North Dakota wants to grab.

Cassandra Dewell can’t leave Montana’s Lewis and Clark County fast enough for her new job as chief investigator for Jon Kirkbride, sheriff of Bakken County. She leaves behind no memories worth keeping: her husband is dead, her boss has made no bones about disliking her, and she’s looking forward to new responsibilities and the higher salary underwritten by North Dakota’s sudden oil boom. But Bakken County has its own issues. For one thing, it’s cold—a whole lot colder than the coldest weather Cassie’s ever imagined. For another, the job she turns out to have been hired for—leading an investigation her new boss doesn’t feel he can entrust to his own force—makes her queasy. The biggest problem, though, is one she doesn’t know about until it slaps her in the face. A fatal car accident that was anything but accidental has jarred loose a stash of methamphetamines and cash that’s become the center of a battle between the Sons of Freedom, Bakken County’s traditional drug sellers, and MS-13, the Salvadorian upstarts who are muscling in on their territory. It’s a setup that leaves scant room for law enforcement officers or for Kyle Westergaard, the 12-year-old paperboy damaged since birth by fetal alcohol syndrome, who’s walked away from the wreck with a prize all too many people would kill for.

A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be welcome to return and tie up the gaping loose end Box leaves. The unrelenting cold makes this the perfect beach read.

Pub Date: July 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-58321-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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