Nelson DeMille, Grand Central, 640 pages
Nelson DeMille brings back federal agent John Corey to tackle a high-ranking al-Qaida terrorist in his latest thriller, “The Panther.” It’s early 2004 and the nation is still reeling from the events of Sept. 11 and the suicide bomb attack on the destroyer USS Cole. Corey and his wife, FBI agent Kate Mayfield, receive orders for a job in Yemen. The mission requires them to use all their resources to track down a killer known as The Panther. Evidence shows he’s responsible for the Cole bombing and scores of other atrocities involving countless civilians.
The Panther has been working on a bold attack on the U.S., and he knows Corey and his team are looking for him. Corey ranks as one of the best protagonists in thriller fiction. DeMille tells the tale in the first person so the reader can delve into the mind of the sarcastic and smart federal agent. He has the audacity and gumption to tell it straight, along with a wisecrack, and get away with it. Mayfield is the perfect sidekick, with the strength and stamina to not only fight for justice, but also put up with Corey’s antics. DeMille again proves that he has the master touch with “The Panther,” a suspenseful action free-for-all. Associated Press
R.L. Stine, Touchstone, 369 pages
“Red Rain” may have some tropes in common with R.L. Stine’s best-selling series of scary books for children, but the audience here is clearly readers who enjoy the likes of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Villainous lawn gnomes and ventriloquist dummies are replaced by real people who cause real pain. The horror is grisly. Stine likes food metaphors to convey the gore: Windpipes ripped out of throats like “some kind of long pasta noodle.” A young woman holding her intestines as “a gusher of pink and yellow sausage” oozes through her fingers.
It’s not really spoiling any suspense to say Stine has flipped his “Goosebumps” formula and made the kids the villains instead of the good guys. When twin 12-year-old boys Samuel and Daniel are adopted by a travel writer after a deadly hurricane off South Carolina, readers understand something’s amiss immediately, even if it takes the book’s characters awhile.
It’s a page turner until the end, with short chapters that help speed the pace. Stine enjoys writing not for kids, but about them. For parents, there’s plenty here to keep you up at night. Stine deftly makes one of his characters a child psychologist whose questions mirror our own: How much freedom of choice should kids have? When do they deserve to be treated like adults? And if you suspect they’re up to no good with their friends, how quickly should you step in?
Quicker than they do in this wicked little book, that’s for sure. Associated Press