A pretty good thriller in an informative historical setting.


A fictionalized account of the Cuban missile crisis from the Soviet perspective.

Fresh from a triumphant case involving a Soviet nuclear superbomb, Alexander Vasin of the Special Cases directorate of the KGB is attempting to catch a high-level spy. Oleg Morozov of the GRU is believed to be passing secrets to the Americans, but all Vasin’s efforts to uncover the traitor have so far yielded nothing. Vasin feels a particular urgency to succeed because his own boss, Gen. Orlov, is locked in mortal bureaucratic combat with Morozov’s boss, Gen. Serov. As Vasin pursues his quarry, he uncovers evidence that the Politburo has authorized the shipment and installation of nuclear missiles in Cuba. In a separate plot development, a flotilla of four Soviet submarines, each one carrying a single nuclear torpedo in addition to its conventional torpedoes, is deployed toward Cuba. As Vasin uncovers more and more of this unsettling situation, he comes to believe that the American government needs to be informed, and he begins to try to use Morozov as a conduit. The discovery of the missiles in Cuba precipitates a diplomatic crisis, but cooler heads eventually prevail over the hawkish Soviet faction. The submarines, however, present another threat. Submerged and beyond communication, they do not require confirmatory orders to use their weapons, and when the U.S. “quarantine” corrals them, the possibility of a nuclear exchange looms. Matthews has done solid historical research—in many cases his characters bear the names of the actual participants—and the fictionalization is deft, but his need to represent all the moving parts detracts from the effect of the whole. Though the matter is momentous, less might have been more.

A pretty good thriller in an informative historical setting.

Pub Date: July 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-385-54342-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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High marks for this one. Let’s hope it’s the beginning of a long series.


Elephants and humans alike face mortal danger in this tense, complex thriller set in Africa.

Tom Klay is an American journalist in Kenya who writes about crimes against endangered species for the National Geographic–like magazine The Sovereign. Because of an earlier article he’d written, a ranger friend tells Klay, “everyone wants to see our famous elephant,” Kenya’s largest. That’s good for tourism, but now criminals want to kill the heavily protected animal and “smuggle his tusks to China whole.” Notorious poacher Ras Botha runs Africa’s ivory trade and considers elephants mere “property” to be hunted at will. “An elephant is carrying two gravestones,” Klay is told: “One for himself. One for his species.” Gravestones are needed for people as well, as Botha takes violent exception to human interference. Klay is a multilayered character who grew up in a funeral home and is well enough acquainted with death to muse that life is an unwinnable case and that “hope was certainty’s flirtatious cousin.” He tells his lover, the wonderfully named career South African prosecutor Hungry Khoza, that he’s not a good person because he’d caused a child’s death in Indonesia. His magazine’s editor-in-chief ropes Klay into moonlighting for the CIA. Then Perseus Group Media, a subsidiary of the “world’s biggest private military company” and China’s overseas security firm, buys out Klay’s financially struggling employer. By the way, China’s “Ultimate Silk Road Project” includes a planned highway through the heart of Kenya. There’s also a treasonous U.S. Navy admiral caught in a “little sex ring” and a pedophile ivory trafficker who is also a peace negotiator. The child sex trafficking theme might have been developed further or omitted altogether, but readers will sense its pervasiveness. The author’s experience as a special investigator for National Geographic informs this fast-moving debut novel.

High marks for this one. Let’s hope it’s the beginning of a long series.

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18792-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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It may be time for Silva's hero to retire from the field and let his protégés take over.


Gabriel Allon partners with a dubious ally in the Middle East.

When a 12-year-old is abducted from an exclusive private school in Geneva, Allon, head of Israeli intelligence, is among the first to know. The girl’s father is Khalid bin Mohammed, heir to the Saudi throne, and he wants Allon’s help. KBM was once feted as a reformer, ready to bring new industries and new freedoms to his country. When he makes his appeal to Allon, though, KBM is the prime suspect in the murder of a journalist. If KBM immediately makes you think of MBS, you are correct. Silva mentions Mohammad bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s real-life heir apparent, in a foreword. But anyone who recognizes KBM as a fictional echo of MBS might find this book to be more old news than fresh entertainment. In his last few novels, Silva has turned his attention to current world affairs, such as the rise of the new Russia and the threats of global terrorism. In novels like The Other Woman (2018) and House of Spies (2017), the author was inventive enough that these works felt compelling and original. And, in The Black Widow (2016), Silva wrote much of the story from the point of view of the French-born Israeli doctor Allon recruited for an undercover mission while also expanding the roles of a few familiar secondary characters. Allon is a wonderful creation. In the first several novels in this series, he posed as an art restorer while working for Israel’s intelligence service. He adopted a variety of personas and gave readers access to people and places few of us will ever see. Now that he’s a public figure who can no longer invent alter egos, his world is smaller and less fascinating. The pacing here is slow, and any sense of urgency is undercut by the matter of what’s at stake. Ultimately, this is a narrative about removing one horrible Saudi ruler in order to reinstate a less horrible Saudi ruler. This might be solid realpolitik, but it’s not terribly compelling fiction.

It may be time for Silva's hero to retire from the field and let his protégés take over.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-283483-6

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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