On one level, it’s great entertainment; on another, a window into a sobering possibility.

NEVER

A complex, scary thriller that feels too plausible for comfort.

Republican President Pauline Green is trying to steer the United States through a dangerous world. China spends billions in Africa to extend its global influence, while North African countries like Chad are beset by criminals and terrorists. But that’s secondary to the real problem: Rebels in North Korea try to overthrow the Communist dynasty and reunite the North and South, which scares the bejesus out of China. They fear the peninsula’s reunification, “a euphemism for takeover by the capitalist West.” The Chinese believe America and Europe want to destroy China “and would stop at nothing," so the last thing they need is a bordering nation with West-leaning sympathies. And domestically, Green faces “blowhard” wannabe president Sen. James Moore, who thinks there’s no point in having nukes if you won’t use them. Even her personal life is complicated: Her husband “was a good lover, but she had never wanted to tear his clothes off with her teeth.” In fact, the first spouses are quietly drifting apart. Yet she “could not fall in love” with another man. “It would be a hurricane, a train crash, a nuclear bomb.” Speaking of which, both superpowers have ironclad commitments to protect their allies, even if some crazy third parties get their hands on nuclear weapons. Will China and the U.S. be drawn into all-out war neither wants? This novel deals with the same great-power issues as Elliot Ackerman and James Stavridis’ recent 2034, and both will give you the willies. Follett could have cut back on the North African subplot and delivered a tighter yarn, but then you mightn’t have learned that “a helicopter glides like a grand piano.” Anyway, that’s Follett: You’ll be so absorbed in the story threads that you’ll follow them anywhere—and you’ll suddenly realize you’ve read hundreds of pages.

On one level, it’s great entertainment; on another, a window into a sobering possibility.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-59-330001-5

Page Count: 816

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

DREAM TOWN

An old-fashioned gumshoe yarn about Hollywood dreams and dead bodies.

Private investigator Aloysius Archer celebrates New Year’s Eve 1952 in LA with his gorgeous lady friend and aspiring actress Liberty Callahan. Screenwriter Eleanor Lamb shows up and offers to hire him because “someone might be trying to kill me.” “I’m fifty a day plus expenses,” he replies, but money’s no obstacle. Later, he sneaks into Lamb’s house and stumbles upon a body, then gets knocked out by an unseen assailant. Archer takes plenty of physical abuse in the story, but at least he doesn’t get a bullet between the eyes like the guy he trips over. A 30-year-old World War II combat veteran, Archer is a righteous and brave hero. Luck and grit keep him alive in both Vegas and the City of Angels, which is rife with gangsters and crooked cops. Not rich at all, his one luxury is the blood-red 1939 Delahaye he likes to drive with the top down. He’d bought it with his gambling winnings in Reno, and only a bullet hole in the windscreen post mars its perfection. Liberty loves Archer, but will she put up with the daily danger of losing him? Why doesn’t he get a safe job, maybe playing one of LA’s finest on the hit TV show Dragnet? Instead, he’s a tough and principled idealist who wants to make the world a better place. Either that or he’s simply a “pavement-pounding PI on a slow dance to maybe nowhere.” And if some goon doesn’t do him in sooner, his Lucky Strikes will probably do him in later. Baldacci paints a vivid picture of the not-so-distant era when everybody smoked, Joe McCarthy hunted commies, and Marilyn Monroe stirred men’s loins. The 1950s weren’t the fabled good old days, but they’re fodder for gritty crime stories of high ideals and lowlifes, of longing and disappointment, and all the trouble a PI can handle.

Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

Pub Date: April 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5387-1977-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

THE LIONESS

An actress and her entourage are kidnapped by Russians in Bohjalian’s uneven thriller.

In 1964, Hollywood’s gossip rags are agog as movie star Katie Barstow marries gallerist David Hill and takes her inner circle along on her honeymoon. And an adventuresome honeymoon it is—on safari in the Serengeti with aging big-game hunter Charlie Patton, who once helped Hemingway bag trophies. But Katie is not the star of this ensemble piece. The populous cast—a who’s who at the beginning is indispensable—includes Katie’s publicist, Reggie Stout; her agent, Peter Merrick; her best friend, Carmen Tedesco, a supporting actress who plays wisecracking sidekicks; and Terrance Dutton, Katie's recent co-star, a Black actor who's challenging Sidney Poitier's singularity in Hollywood. With obvious nods to Hemingway’s worst fear—masculine cowardice—Bohjalian adds in Felix Demeter, Carmen’s husband, a B-list screenwriter who reminds his wife of Hemingway’s weakling Francis Macomber. Felix seems a superfluous double of David, who feels inadequate because Katie is the breadwinner and his father is CIA. Then there’s Katie’s older brother, Billy Stepanov, whose abuse at the hands of their mother shaped the psychologist he is today; Billy’s pregnant wife, Margie; and Benjamin Kikwete, an apprentice safari guide. Thus, a proliferation of voices whose competing perspectives fragment rather than advance the story. The kidnapping plot seems less designed to test each character’s mettle than to exercise Bohjalian’s predilection for minute descriptions of gore. The most heartfelt portrayal here is of the Serengeti and its flora and fauna, but none of the human characters net enough face time to transcend their typecasting. The motives behind the kidnapping might have lent intrigue to the proceedings, but foreshadowing is so slight that the infodump explainer at the end leaves us shocked, mostly at how haphazard the plot is.

Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54482-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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