Some suspense novels focus on slam-bang action; others emphasize elaborate plot twists; a few take the time to study their characters in depth. It's a rare writer who can pull off a triple play, expertly juggling all three approaches in one book, yet that's the feat J. Carson Black accomplishes in her complex, fast-paced, thoroughly engaging super-thriller, The Shop.
What is the Shop? It's a clandestine government agency that swings into action whenever an embarrassing scandal threatens to break. The proprietors of the Shop know only too well that the media will fixate on the most sensational story available, freezing out coverage of everything else. To keep the Fourth Estate safely distracted, all that's needed is a juicier bone to gnaw on–a tabloid news story that will drown out more sinister developments. The Shop manufactures these stories, using squads of black-op agents to do the dirty work that makes the headlines.
One of those operatives is Cyril Landry, a cunning sociopath who has never questioned his mission–until now. His doubts put him on the trail of Nick Holloway, best-selling author and Internet celeb, and the only survivor of the Shop's most recent black-bag assignment. While Nick probes the mystery in the fashionable enclaves of Aspen and Malibu, a sheriff's detective on the other end of the continent is exploring her own suspicions. Jolie Burke of rural Palm County, Florida, doesn't know what she's getting herself into, and by the time she finds out, it may be too late.
Each of these characters is sketched in bold lines and realistic detail, but it's Landry who really jumps off the page, an ultra-competent, unflappable uber-assassin who emerges as one of the most memorable bad guys in contemporary suspense fiction. If Jack Reacher and Hannibal Lecter could somehow be crossbred, Cyril Landry would be the result. He's the kind of guy you love to meet in a good novel, but dearly wish to avoid in real life.
The Shop skillfully weaves these characters and their stories into a complicated tapestry of pursuit, betrayal, conspiracy, and death. It all comes to a head at Indigo, the isolated island haven of a Kennedyesque clan of scandal-ridden politicos, which becomes the staging ground for a thunderous, cinematic action spectacle that would be a blast on the big screen.
As you can tell, I really enjoyed The Shop, and I think you will too. Several of J. Carson Black's earlier novels are superb in their own right, but in The Shop her writing skyrockets to a dizzying new altitude of intensity and sophistication–and you'll love going along for the ride.