An enjoyable read. Berry’s fans won’t be disappointed.

THE WARSAW PROTOCOL

Holy relics, a salt mine, and treachery feature in this 15th entry in the author’s Cotton Malone series (The Malta Exchange, 2019, etc.).

Former lawyer and American intelligence officer Cotton Malone is now a bookseller who goes to Bruges, Belgium, for an antiquarian book fair. He’s hired by a former boss to steal the Holy Lance, one of the seven “weapons of Christ,” or Arma Christi. That is the price of admission to a secret auction, in which various countries will bid on compromising information about Poland’s president, Janusz Czajkowski. The point? Czajkowski is an honorable man who will not allow the U.S. to build a missile system on Polish soil, and the EU– and NATO-hating U.S. President Fox is one of several people who want the Polish leader out of the way at all costs. “If I wanted a conscience, I’d buy one,” Fox says. Readers will have to pay close attention to suss out the meaning of Czajkowski’s Warsaw Protocol because the author hardly hammers it home. But the story is fun regardless, especially with characters like the smart and resourceful Malone and the Polish foreign intelligence officer Sonia Draga, “a fortress, often scaled and assaulted, but never conquered.” The complex plot leads to a magnificent Polish salt mine (a real place) that’s hundreds of meters deep with nine layers, has hundreds of miles of tunnels, brine lakes people can’t sink in, and lots of tourists. Berry builds suspense nicely, allowing readers to anticipate the violence that eventually comes. To a great extent, the novel is a richly detailed homage to Poland, its culture, and its ability to survive so many invasions over the centuries. The connection between Arma Christi and an unwanted American missile system feels a wee bit iffy, but at least the latter won’t be called the Holy Lance.

An enjoyable read. Berry’s fans won’t be disappointed.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-14030-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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