Winnipeg Free Press column, December 2016

Gregg Hurwitz’s Orphan X (St. Martin’s, 416 pages, $14) introduces us to a new action hero. Evan Smoak used to be a government assassin. Now he lives in anonymity, using his unique skills to help people who have nowhere else to turn. Imagine his surprise when he discovers someone has used his own carefully designed protocols to track him down… and they very much hope to kill him.

Hurwitz has always been a fine craftsman, mixing well-drawn characters with exciting, unpredictable stories. This is one of his very best novels, with a genuinely suspenseful plot (you sometimes think it’s going here next, but it goes there instead) and, in Smoak, a fresh, interesting, enigmatic hero.

The sequel, The Nowhere Man, will be released in hardcover in January. You should definitely read this first.

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The Ice Limit (Grand Central, 512 pages, $11), by the writing team of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, was first published in 2000. Because they’ve finally written a sequel — Beyond the Ice Limit, due in paperback very soon — the novel has been reissued. It’s a thrilling adventure concerning a billionaire who mounts an expedition to an island off the coast of Chile, where the largest meteorite ever to strike Earth lies buried.

The billionaire’s plan: dig up the meteorite and take it back to his new museum in New York. He hires a ruthlessly efficient engineer and a professional meteorite hunter to carry out the daring mission, and — you might as well be warned right now — things do not go according to plan. What starts out as a treasure-hunting story soon mutates into a horror story, and a darned good one, too.

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Let’s shift gears now. Christopher Buckley is known for modern-day satires like Thank You for SmokingNo Way to Treat a First Lady and Florence of Arabia. His new one, The Relic Master (Simon & Schuster, 400 pages, $22), is set nearly 500 years ago. Dismas is a professional relic hunter, finding and purchasing religious odds and ends for his clients. When he and his buddy, the German painter Albrecht Dürer, get caught trying to pull a scam involving Christ’s burial shroud, they are forced to undertake a project that will surely spell their doom.

Here’s the thing: it might be set a long time ago in a country far, far away, but the book is very much a typical Buckley political/social satire. It’s snortingly funny, with a great cast of characters, a wonderful story, and plenty of commentary on modern-day goings-on. When you start reading, you might think it’s a real change of pace for Buckley; then you settle in and realize it’s not. It’s just Buckley once again doing what he does best.

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In The Crossing (Vision, 464 pages $13), the latest Harry Bosch mystery from Michael Connelly to land in paperback (his new Bosch book, The Wrong Side of Goodbye, is out in hardcover), Harry is retired from the LAPD, and not by choice: he’s embroiled in a tricky legal matter, and his best option was retirement. When his half-brother, the flamboyant “Lincoln lawyer” Mickey Haller, asks Bosch to help him out with a seemingly hopeless murder case — Mickey knows his client is innocent, but all the evidence says otherwise — Harry’s first inclination is to say no.

But as he reads about the case, something doesn’t feel quite right to Bosch. Reluctantly, he digs into the case, and soon it begins leading him in a direction he really wishes he didn’t have to go.

This is a splendid novel. Haller and Bosch are very different people, with different moral and ethical outlooks, but they share one important character trait: a determination to find out the truth, no matter what it takes. Genius at work.

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