Winnipeg Free Press column, March 4, 2017

In Brad Meltzer and Tod Goldberg’s The House of Secrets (Grand Central, 398 pages, $11), Jack Nash, the host of a conspiracy-themed television series, is killed in a car accident. His children, Hazel and Skip, survive. An FBI agent comes to see Hazel in the hospital, spinning a tale of murder and mystery: a man is dead, and — here’s something you don’t hear every day — he had a book sewn inside him, a Bible once belonging to Benedict Arnold, the notorious traitor.

And it looks as if Jack Nash might have been the last person to see the man alive.

Meltzer has written several novels involving historical conspiracies, and he hosts a TV show about the same sort of thing (History Decoded), so he’s in pretty safe territory here.

The story is intricate and not too implausible, the characters are generally pretty realistic, and the primary mystery — whether Benedict Arnold was a traitor or an unsung hero of the American Revolution — is intriguing enough to keep us flipping the pages. A good yarn for fans of conspiracy-minded fiction.

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Scott Woolley’s The Network: The Battle for the Airwaves and the Birth of the Communications Age (Ecco, 280 pages, $20) takes us back to the first half of the 20th century.

Edwin Armstrong invented, among other things, FM radio and the amplifier. David Sarnoff, head of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), was a visionary; he saw so far into the future that he had some of his radio studios wired for television broadcasting, years before there was such a thing as television broadcasting. The two men were friends, colleagues and — later, after some seriously interesting things happened — enemies.

Sarnoff prospered and became a part of the history of the entertainment industry. Armstrong died by his own hand, an angry, frustrated and somewhat paranoid man.

Woolley tells their story — and, by extension, the story of the creation of the modern media age — with compassion and a rigorous eye for detail. An exciting, dramatic and frequently surprising story.

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An American is captured on video murdering three men. The American appears to be working for the Islamic State. Marion (Doc) Ford, a marine biologist who used to work with the National Security Agency (NSA), is tasked with tracking down the mysterious American, but can he find the man without putting his own life at risk?

How far is Doc prepared to go?

Deep Blue (Putnam, 342 pages, $14) is Randy Wayne White’s 23rd Doc Ford thriller. It’s darker than some of its predecessors, probably because of its timely subject matter: traitors and terrorists.

But White’s deadpan sense of humour hasn’t been put entirely aside, and Doc Ford is the same straight-talking, sometimes-wisecracking guy he’s always been.

Fans of this excellent series should gobble this one up when it comes out in paperback Tuesday.

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Speaking of military thrillers, here’s Cold Barrel Zero (Mulholland Books, 373 pages, $21) by the relatively new but immensely promising novelist Matthew Quirk.

John Hayes, a veteran Special Ops operative, has apparently turned traitor and made plans to execute a number of attacks against the United States. Thomas Byrne, a surgeon who used to fight alongside Hayes, back when Hayes was a rising star in Special Operations, is coerced into service by the government. His mission: find, and if possible capture, John Hayes.

Brilliantly conceived and exceedingly well written, this is a military thriller that relies as much on carfefully drawn characters as it does on plot points; this is a story about people, about friends who have become enemies, about the importance and fragility of trust. Intense and compelling.



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