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Update January 2019

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Book Review

‘The First Conspiracy’ unspools plot on Washington in 1776

 Michael Hill

George Washington faced some big problems as he tried to fortify New York City against British forces in the summer of 1776.

His ragtag army was woefully short on weapons and battle experience. The British were assembling a massive expeditionary force to crush his army and snuff out the nascent revolution.

And one more thing: some of his own bodyguards were involved in a traitorous plot against him.

“The First Conspiracy” follows the shadowy plot that played out in and around Manhattan as Washington focused on the coming British attack. The odd assortment of characters involved in this cloak-and-dagger tale include a scheming gunsmith, would-be counterfeiters and some members of Washington’s elite bodyguard detachment, called the Life Guards.

Looming ominously over all the machinations was Gov. William Tyron, the top British official in New York. Rising revolutionary sentiment had forced him to retreat to a ship in New York Harbor, but he was still able to spin his webs of intrigue against the rebels.

It’s not a spoiler to point out that the plot failed. Washington, of course, was just beginning his long, historical run on the world’s stage. The only person to lose his life after the plot was exposed was bodyguard Thomas Hickey, who was publicly hanged for “mutiny, sedition, and treachery.”

So authors Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch extract what they can out of the historical record to tell a colorful story giving the reader a sense of Revolutionary-era Manhattan. The writing is punchy and the chapters are short, though the authors have an annoying habit of ending every chapter with a cliffhanger, even when they have to contrive one.

Despite the book’s subtitle, it’s not certain whether plotters planned to assassinate Washington or capture him. Many believed it was an assassination plot ever since Hickey went to the gallows. In one famous story, Washington was about to be served poisoned peas before a servant threw the plate out the window at the last second, saving the future president but killing some chickens outside who ate the deadly vegetables.

That story is almost certainly apocryphal. But what was the most likely plan? Scouring the existing evidence, the authors come up with a conclusion that seems as good as any that can be drawn more than two centuries later. (AP)

Gervais crafts intelligent and thoughtful thriller

Jeff Ayers

Pierce Hunt has returned from a six-month forced leave after a reporter is injured during a bust even though it’s not Hunt’s fault.

On his first day back, he’s assigned to assist the transfer of a high-profile drug cartel target named Vicente Garcia. It’s personal for Hunt since he’s responsible for bringing Garcia to justice at the cost of his marriage. He also fell in love with Garcia’s daughter. When the convoy is ambushed, Hunt barely survives. Then he learns that the people responsible are not only attempting to take over the lucrative drug business, they have also kidnapped Garcia’s granddaughter and a friend of hers who happens to be Hunt’s daughter.

The new head of the cartel could not be more ruthless, and if it means killing the girls to have her demands met, so be it. Hunt has to not only work with Garcia’s daughter, the woman he tried to forget and who loathes him after his betrayal, he also has to work against the very principles he swore to uphold.

In “Hunt Them Down,” Gervais has crafted an intelligent and thoughtful thriller that mixes family dynamics with explosive action. Heroes who fight impossible odds while being likable characters are always welcome in the world of genre fiction. The possibilities are endless in this new series, and this will easily find an enthusiastic audience craving Hunt’s next adventures. (AP)

Preston and Child’s stories are multifaceted and complex

Jeff Ayers

Authors Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child working together are masters at crafting a story that goes beyond a simple mystery or thriller. Their stories are multifaceted and complex, making the reading experience a true joy. This time, in their new novel “Verses for the Dead”, while main character Pendergast works with agent Coldmoon, the crime has many unconventional layers to it, making it more difficult to solve. The killer murders his victim and then removes the heart. The organ is left at a gravestone in the cemetery with a cryptic note next to it. The victim and the owner of the grave seemingly aren’t connected. Pendergast soon figures out that the heart is left at gravestones of women who committed suicide.

Pendergast thinks outside the box at all times, and goes against direct orders to prove a hunch. He believes the women were actually murdered, and the killer known by the moniker Brokenhearts might be responsible for their deaths in addition to the recent victims. With his career on the line, Pendergast has a lot to prove and quickly or the killer might strike again. What he doesn’t know is that his new partner, Coldmoon, has strict orders to do everything in his power to see Pendergast fail.

The unorthodox methods agent Pendergast applies to solve the truly bizarre cases he encounters are legendary. This almost insubordination is the primary reason why his new boss wants him transferred out of his jurisdiction.

Readers unfamiliar with Pendergast will find this novel a fantastic launch point. He’s a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, and the story reads like classic literature rather than the majority of mystery/thrillers on the market. (AP)


HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

‘The First Conspiracy’ unspools plot on Washington in 1776

Gervais crafts intelligent and thoughtful thriller

Preston and Child’s stories are multifaceted and complex