Review: NEED TO KNOW by Karen Cleveland (Ballantine / Doubleday / Bantam)

ClevelandK-NeedToKnowUSA fast-paced, gripping spy thriller

In pursuit of a Russian sleeper cell on American soil, CIA analyst Vivian Miller uncovers a dangerous secret that will threaten her job, her family — and her life. On track for a much-needed promotion, she’s developed a system for identifying Russian agents, seemingly normal people living in plain sight.

After accessing the computer of a potential Russian operative, Vivian stumbles on a secret dossier of deep-cover agents within America’s borders. A few clicks later, everything that matters to her — her job, her husband, even her four children — is threatened.‎

Vivian has vowed to defend her country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. But now she’s facing impossible choices. Torn between loyalty and betrayal, allegiance and treason, love and suspicion, who can she trust?

This novel received a lot of pre-publication buzz. Russian sleeper cells infiltrating the CIA; movie rights sold to Universal Pictures, with Charlize Theron attached; and lots of praise from other thriller and mystery authors. All of this during a political environment characterized (in part) by Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. So, with expectations high, I’m glad to report that Need to Know exceeded my hopes. A gripping novel that I devoured in two sittings. Continue reading


Quick Review: A MAP OF THE DARK by Karen Ellis (Mulholland)

EllisK-1-AMapOfTheDarkThe first novel in the Searchers series

A girl missing

A woman, searching

A killer, planning…

If you’re lost she’ll find you

But who will save her?

Elsa Myers is smart, determined, and gifted with an extraordinary ability to find missing children. When vulnerable teenager Ruby disappears from Queens, she is put on the case.

But Elsa’s skills are rooted in her own troubled past. She is haunted by her mother’s murder, her father is dying, and her relationship with her sister is crumbling. As the case begins to look hopeless, it becomes more and more personal, tangling with the traumatic history she has worked so hard to hide.

As the darkness gathers around her, Elsa has to make a choice: can she save Ruby, if it means losing herself?

A Map of the Dark is the first in an interesting new series from Karen Ellis that introduces us to Elsa Myers, an FBI agent struggling with her own inner demons. While this is a novel far more about the protagonist than it is the crime she and her colleagues are investigating, I enjoyed the novel, and I think the series has promise. Continue reading

(Very) Quick Review: OF GODS AND MEN by Stephen Aryan (Orbit)

AryanS-B0-OfGodsAndMenA prequel to the Age of Dread trilogy

The gruff and mysterious warrior known as Vargus has meant many things to many people over the course of his long life. But when he hears of a village suffering strange attacks in the dead of night, he must take up the role of the Gath — the people’s protector — once again, before any more children go missing.

Of Gods and Men is a very good introduction to the fantasy world Stephen Aryan has created. In this novella, we are introduced to Vargus, one of the main characters of the novels.

I enjoyed the novella — Vargus is an interesting protagonist, and through the mystery that is at the core of the story we learn a fair bit about him: who he is (albeit, with a fair bit of mystery remaining in place), what his motivations are, and what his relationship is to Lanny. To begin with, I was a little confused by certain things — who was who, for example, wasn’t immediately apparent, but I quickly oriented myself. Continue reading


Quick Review: THE TRAITOR by Jonathan de Shalit (Atria/Emily Bestler)

deShalitJ-TraitorUSAn interesting, if flawed espionage thriller

A sprawling, international high-stakes thriller that pits the intelligence of one man against one of the most successful spies ever to operate against American interests.

When a young Israeli walks into an American embassy and offers to betray his country for money and power, he has no idea that the CIA agent interviewing him is a Russian mole. Years later, that young man has risen in the ranks to become a trusted advisor to Israel’s Prime Minister and throughout his career, he’s been sharing everything he knows with the Kremlin. Now, however, a hint that there may be a traitor in the highest realms of power has slipped out and a top-secret team is put together to hunt for him. The chase leads the team from the streets of Tel Aviv to deep inside the Russian zone and, finally, to the United States, where a most unique spymaster is revealed. The final showdown — between the traitor and the betrayed — can only be resolved by an act of utter treachery that could have far-reaching and devastating consequences.

I had very high hopes for this novel: an agent working for a handler who is himself an agent, and a decades-long career of unwittingly spying for one’s enemies? That’s an attention-grabbing premise, which left me with very high expectations. It took my a couple of tries to get going with the novel, but I’m sad to report that it ultimately didn’t work for me. Continue reading


Review: THE GUILTY and END GAME by David Baldacci (Grand Central / Macmillan)


The fourth and fifth Robie & Reel novels see a shift in the series style

Will Robie is the government’s most professional, disciplined, and lethal assassin. He infiltrates the most hostile countries in the world, defeats our enemies’ advanced security measures, and eliminates threats before they ever reach our shores.

But now, his skills have left him. Sent overseas on a critical assignment, he fails, unable to pull the trigger. Absent his talents, Robie is a man without a mission, and without a purpose.

To recover what he has lost, Robie must confront what he has tried to forget for over twenty years: his own past.

Will Robie escaped his small Gulf Coast hometown of Cantrell, Mississippi, after high school, severing all personal ties, and never looked back. Not once. Not until the unimaginable occurs. His father, Dan Robie, has been arrested and charged with murder.
Father and son haven’t spoken or seen each other since the day Robie left town. In that time, Dan Robie–a local attorney and pillar of the community – has been elected town judge. Despite this, most of Cantrell is aligned against Dan. His guilt is assumed.

To make matters worse, Dan has refused to do anything to defend himself. When Robie tries to help, his father responds only with anger and defiance. Could Dan really be guilty?

I’m definitely a fan of Baldacci’s novels. After the Camel Club series ended, the author’s novels featuring Will Robie and Jessica Reel quickly became my favourites. However, these last two installments — while enjoyable and engaging thrillers in their own right — didn’t quite rise to the quality I have come to expect from the author. Nevertheless, they are well-written novels, and I was kept entertained and invested in the story. Continue reading


Quick(ish) Review: RUINSTORM by David Annandale (Black Library)

AnnandaleD-HH-RuinstormThree Legions attempt the journey back to Terra…

Imperium Secundus lies revealed as a heretical folly. Terra has not fallen, though it remains inaccessible. Sanguinius, Guilliman and the Lion El’Johnson, the primarchs of the Triumvirate, must reach Terra at all costs. They seek to defend the Emperor, and to atone for their sins. But the Ruinstorm, a galaxy-wide maelstrom of chaos, hides the Throneworld from the primarchs. Now the fleets of three Legions depart Macragge, and the primarchs will stop at nothing to overcome the Ruinstorm. Yet an insidious enemy watches their every move, and plots against the weaknesses of the errant sons of the Emperor. Each has his own inner storm, and each marches towards his own ruin.

In this, the 46th novel in the Horus Heresy series, the three Legions stranded at Ultramar have sallied forth, attempting to break through the Ruinstorm and make their way back to Terra, to be by the Emperor’s side when Horus launches his final attack on the Imperial throne world. Annandale brings his A-game, and from the get-go we’re thrown right into the story. It’s Chaotic, interesting, and moves the story forward nicely. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading


Quick Review: NAGASH: THE UNDYING KING by Joshua Reynolds (Black Library)

ReynoldsJ-AoS-Nagash-UndyingKingOne of my favourite fantasy/horror characters returns in the Age of Sigmar

Since the dark days of the Great Awakening, the scattered remnants of humanity have clung to a bleak existence, surviving howsoever they can, no matter what the cost. Tamra, a voivode of the Rictus clans, fights one last, desperate battle for the survival of her tribe, the Drak. Now her people face their most relentless enemy ever – the lumbering minions of the Plague God. Where is their lord Nagash, the Undying King, when his people need him most? As the gods and their servants vie for power in the Mortal Realms, Tamra is drawn into a deadly game between life and death, as beings long thought gone start to exert their powers once again.

This is Reynolds’s second book to feature Nagash set in the Age of Sigmar — the lord of the undead appeared in Mortarch of Night, and the author previously wrote about the character in the first End Times novel, The Return of Nagash. Nagash has long been one of my favourite Warhammer characters, so I’ve always been interested in reading fiction with him at its centre. The Undying King did not disappoint. Continue reading