Indeed, the nineteenth novel to feature the stalwart ex-Navy SEAL used to being dumped into a meat grinder finds Harvath chewed up by a system that discards him last week’s trash. Being expendable is something he’s long accepted, but being abandoned and forgotten by his own people proves a bit harder to tolerate to the point that he comes gunning for revenge—literally. That is, if he can escape the Russian hit squad who’ve already taken everything from him and are after more.
Harvath’s existential quest makes Backlash read like John le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold as channeled through the Alistair MacLean classic Ice Station Zebra. As close to perfect as a thriller can be.
If Thomas Harris’ name wasn’t displayed in big and bold fashion above the tile of Cari Mora (Grand Central), I never would have believed he wrote it. His iconic Hannibal Lecter character is nowhere to be seen. Nor is Will Graham, Clarice Starling, or anyone else from that universe of books.
Indeed, this is a whole new world for Harris, and one that seems oddly vapid for a writer known for his relentless intensity and blisteringly original set pieces. Cari Mora feels like an odd counter-reaction to all that, an effective but thin tale about the hunt for riches standing in for Harris’ more typically alluring descent into human depravity. The title character, an illegal immigrant, more than holds her own and grows on you in her stubborn nobility when cast as prisoner, both metaphysical and otherwise.
The book itself, though, is hostage to our own expectations and disappointment over not getting what we’ve gotten in the past. Judged purely on its own, this is a solid tale that only occasionally realizes the potential Harris is known for fulfilling.
Normally, the thriller genre doesn’t translate all that well to the short story form. That is unless the author is David Morrell as witnessed in his superb collection Before I Wake (Subterranean Press).
To say no two stories are the same would be a complete understatement indeed, given that all of Morrell’s vast talents are on display here, from the creator of Rambo and father of the modern action novel as displayed in “The Abelard Sanction,” to one of America’s greatest novelists period in “The Architecture of Snow.” Something for everyone, in other words, including a few tales that would make great fodder for the original Twilight Zone.
David Morrell isn’t just a writer. He’s a national treasure who never takes his craft, or his audience, for granted. And in that sense, Before I Wake becomes the literary equivalent of a greatest hits album, a daring and devilish triumph that’s music to the imagination.
This time out, his series hero Jake Keller (formerly known in another book and incarnation as Zac Miller) is now a full-fledged CIA operative, having proven himself as adept with a pistol as he is with a keyboard. And he’s going to need both respective skills to deal with an (apparently) accidental drone strike in Saudi Arabia. That wasn’t the plan, of course, and Keller is left racing to save his own job, reputation, and to find the elusive and deadly truth.
There is no shortage of great military-political thrillers. Ricciardi is among the latest to rightfully claim that arena as their own. His command of technology is matched by his natural ease at storytelling highlighted by a penchant to make complicated tech seem simple. A must-read for fans of Vince Flynn, Brad Taylor and the aforementioned Brad Thor.
Psychological thrillers have a higher bar to meet, given the lack of action to propel them from scene to scene. But J.S. Monroe’s The Last Thing She Remembers (Park Row Books) maintains relentless propulsion absent bombs and falling bodies—well, at least far fewer.
The Hitchcockian setup casts Jemma Huish as an amnesiac, her condition induced by a seemingly random robbery in London’s Heathrow Airport. Before you can say Spellbound, though, Monroe has thrown enough twists and turns into Jemma’s plight as to turn his follow-up to the equally superb Find Me into a splendid slice of post-modern noir with just enough gothic overtones thrown into the mix for good measure.
That reason lies in its superb grasp of the contemporary geopolitical arena on an international scale. But it also serves up a classic chase tale of vengeance, when a bombing at a Tokyo Hotel sends company exec Dan Reilly backs to his roots in Army Intelligence. In other words, he used to be a spy, well-honed skills he’s going to need again to sort through the morass of red herrings and misplaced motivations to catch the man or men responsible.
Not surprisingly, that trail contains any number of unexpected curves. What is surprising, at least mildly, is the deft hand Grossman and Fuller weave in constructing a perfect balance between action and intrigue in crafting a terrific high-stakes thriller.
W. Michael and Kathleen Gear’s stunningly effective Star Path (Forge), the fourth in their brilliant series chronicling early America through the eyes of Native Americans, rewrites the rules of historical epics.
That’s because People of Cahokia, as the book is sub-titled, offers a heady, seasoned mix of mysticism and lore sprinkled in amid actual events. This series entry features a dangerous quest undertaken by Night Shadow Star to distant lands, essentially the world beyond the mountains that mark the end of their world. Because that’s the only way she can save her people from a tyrant whose rule is threatening their very way of life.
Setting aside the obvious metaphorical and allegorical implications, Star Path offers a wondrously drawn vision of early American life, what our country was like in unspoiled form set against forces determined to spoil it. As richly detailed as its beautifully told.
Rich Kisielewski’s Confessions (White Bird Publications) is cut from the cloth of great serial killer tales like Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs and Jeffery Deaver’s The Bone Collector. A kind of moribund sub-genre as of late Kisielewski seems determined to resurrect all on his own.
The Silence of the Lambs is a fitting comparison or, better yet, season one of HBO’s True Detective in that the murders bear a kind of ritualistic aspect of a madman in search of, well, something related to the ways he exhibits his victims like museum pieces. Indeed, they are art to the killer and it’s up to a task force led by harried detective Maeve Brennan to catch him before he stages his next piece.
The result is a high-stakes cat-and-mouse game that quickly becomes personal for all involved. Confessions is top-flight reading entertainment, a tale that smokes and smolders its way to a wholly satisfying finish.