This one will appeal to Dan Brown fans and anyone else in the mood for a page-turning yarn.

THE MALTA EXCHANGE

Religion and murder meet in Malta and Rome in this 14th entry in the author’s Cotton Malone series (The Bishop’s Pawn, 2018, etc.).

The pope has died, and His Eminence Kastor Cardinal Gallo schemes to get the job. Unfortunately, he is “radioactive” in the church, even “proclaimed a threat to all the faithful.” Oh, and he only fakes his religious belief. All he wants is power, and he will kill for it. His identical twin brother, Pollux, is a Knight of Malta but not a priest and certainly not his brother’s keeper. Meanwhile, series hero Cotton Malone is on a special freelance assignment from Britain’s MI6, looking for rumored secret correspondence between Churchill and Mussolini. And former Army Ranger Luke Daniels trails Kastor, who is from Malta, where much of the story takes place. Cotton finds a mysterious ring engraved with a Maltese cross and a five-word palindrome that’s spelled out a tad too often. Perhaps a secret lies in the engraved words. He also uncovers documents hidden by Mussolini and looks for what’s hidden in an obelisk in Rome. The intrigue is intense as Kastor and a few goons will stoop to murder to abet his rise to the most powerful post in the Catholic Church. Thriller fans will have their violence fix, but the real fun is in learning about the inner workings of the church, its history dating all the way back to Constantine, and the troubled past of Malta. Cynicism about Christianity abounds; why else would Simon Wiesenthal have said that the Vatican has the best spy service in the world? Popes Pius XI and XII never stood up to the fascists, and perhaps heaven, hell, and the Holy Trinity were invented in the third century merely to differentiate Christianity from Judaism. Cotton is highly capable—“Failure was not his style,” meaning he fits in well among the can-do American heroes in the genre. But Kastor and Pollux are the conniving hypocrites who really pop off the pages.

This one will appeal to Dan Brown fans and anyone else in the mood for a page-turning yarn.

Pub Date: March 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-14026-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless...

SPLIT SECOND

Two defrocked Secret Service Agents investigate the assassination of one presidential candidate and the kidnapping of another.

Baldacci (The Christmas Train, 2002, etc.) sets out with two plot strands. The first begins when something distracts Secret Service Agent Sean King and during that “split second,” presidential candidate Clyde Ritter is shot dead. King takes out the killer, but that’s not enough to save his reputation with the Secret Service. He retires and goes on to do often tedious but nonetheless always lucrative work (much like a legal thriller such as this) at a law practice. Plot two begins eight years later when another Secret Service Agent, Michelle Maxwell, lets presidential candidate John Bruno out of her sight for a few minutes at a wake for one of his close associates. He goes missing. Now Maxwell, too, gets in dutch with the SS. Though separated by time, the cases are similar and leave several questions unanswered. What distracted King at the rally? Bruno had claimed his friend’s widow called him to the funeral home. The widow (one of the few characters here to have any life) says she never called Bruno. Who set him up? Who did a chambermaid at Ritter’s hotel blackmail? And who is the man in the Buick shadowing King’s and Maxwell’s every move? King is a handsome, rich divorce, Maxwell an attractive marathon runner. Will they join forces and find each other kind of, well, appealing? But of course. The two former agents traverse the countryside, spinning endless hypotheses before the onset, at last, of a jerrybuilt conclusion that begs credibility and offers few surprises.

Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless concoction.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2003

ISBN: 0-446-53089-1

Page Count: 406

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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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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