Review: The Quiet Room by Terry Miles

Review: The Quiet Room by Terry MilesThe Quiet Room (Rabbits, #2) by Terry Miles
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, technothriller, thriller
Series: Rabbits #2
Pages: 432
Published by Del Rey on October 3, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

The lore and legends around the underground game known as Rabbits gain new dimensions in this twisty tale set in the world of the hit Rabbits podcast.
After nearly winning the eleventh iteration of Rabbits, the mysterious alternate reality game so vast it uses the entire world as its canvas, Emily Connors suddenly finds herself trapped in a dimensional stream where the game does not exist. At all. Except . . . why do sinister figures show up to stop her every time she goes looking? Does Rabbits truly not exist, or is it being hidden? And if it’s being hidden, why—and by whom?
Meanwhile, architect and theme park designer Rowan Chess is having the weirdest month of his life, full of odd coincidences and people who appear one moment and vanish the next, with no trace they ever even existed. The game that is hiding from Emily seems to have found Rowan—with a vengeance.
But only when Rowan and Emily meet do things start to get dangerous, for together they uncover a conspiracy far deeper and deadlier than either of them expected—one that could forever change the nature not only of the game, but of reality itself.

My Review:

R U playing Rabbits? Or is Rabbits playing you – along with the rest of the multiverse? That’s the question at the heart of The Quiet Room, a wild ride that is anything but quiet. Or peaceful. And only sorta/kinda a room.

The story is, as one of the chapter headings put is, “a Bumpy Fucking Ride” every single step of its sometimes meandering but always terrifyingly dangerous way.

Fair warning, there be “wibbly wobbly timey-wimey stuff” here, with absolutely no Doctor in sight – even if this version of the multiverse could definitely use one.

Emily Cooper, one of the protagonists of Rabbits, seems to have dimensionally shifted into a corner of the multiverse where Rabbits is hiding – not in plain sight as it was in the first book – but so completely underground and under the radar that even Emily can’t find it.

There’s clearly something very, very wrong going on, and the ‘Rabbit Police’ all too frequently mess with any progress that she makes in figuring out what.

They’re not really called the ‘Rabbit Police’, in fact Emily doesn’t know what they ARE called. What she does know is that they operate a bit like a cross between the Men in Black, and SPECTRE or some secret super-spy organization. They show up in suits and masks, kidnap her or one of her friends, sedate her, imprison her and ask her questions about Rabbits. Over and over and over again.

While Emily is running from the ‘Rabbit Police’, Rowan Chess seems to be running straight towards them. The extreme coincidences that form the backdrop of Rabbits seem to be chasing him down in that same world where Rabbits is emphatically not being played. Except by him – even if he has no clue what it is.

As the Rabbits players scurry, and the Rabbit Police chase after them, Emily & Co., discover that the end of this world is coming – even as the ongoing playing of Rabbits in other dimensions is intended to save the rest of it.

They have to find their way to the Quiet Room, the one place where this dying stub of a world connects to the rest of the multiverse. But they have no clue where it is – or even when it is – and no idea who is with them or against them.

Or even if one of them is the entire reason that the AI that controls Rabbits has decided that the whole stub – and everyone in it – should be shut down for the greater good. Or even whether that greater good is greater or good or even halfway well defined at all.

Escape Rating B: I honestly did not expect to like The Quiet Room. The first book in the series, titled Rabbits after the game at the heart of the podcast series of the same title, was a bit of a confused mess that didn’t completely gel for me as a story. I wanted it to, but it just didn’t quite.

The Quiet Room is still a very wild and chaotic ride, but the action is, for the most part, confined to a single stub of the multiverse, and the problem that the characters have to solve is a bit more contained and refined as a result. Meaning that the story hangs together better and makes considerably more sense to a reader looking for a story with at least a somewhat defined beginning, middle and end.

The Quiet Room does a considerably better job at particularly the beginning and the middle, although the end it reaches isn’t so much an end as it is an opening for further adventures. Still, the cast of characters is a bit smaller and their motivations are a bit easier to suss out, so the story feels like it’s on a fast set of rails that keeps the reader on their toes, guessing what comes next, and hanging on for the next corkscrew without flying off into the walls and ceiling.

The ending is only the ending to this particular adventure, but the way it delivers its last twist means that there’s plenty of room for the series to continue. And I’m rather surprised to say that I’ll be more interested in reading that continuation than I ever imagined when I first poked my way into The Quiet Room.

Review: Red Team Blues by Cory Doctorow

Review: Red Team Blues by Cory DoctorowRed Team Blues (Martin Hench) by Cory Doctorow
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback ebook, audiobook
Genres: computer history, technothriller, thriller
Series: Martin Hench #1
Pages: 213
Published by Tor Books on April 25, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
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New York Times bestseller Cory Doctorow's Red Team Blues is a grabby next-Tuesday thriller about cryptocurrency shenanigans that will awaken you to how the world really works.
Martin Hench is 67 years old, single, and successful in a career stretching back to the beginnings of Silicon Valley. He lives and roams California in a very comfortable fully-furnished touring bus, The Unsalted Hash, that he bought years ago from a fading rock star. He knows his way around good food and fine drink. He likes intelligent women, and they like him back often enough.
Martin is a―contain your excitement―self-employed forensic accountant, a veteran of the long guerilla war between people who want to hide money, and people who want to find it. He knows computer hardware and software alike, including the ins and outs of high-end databases and the kinds of spreadsheets that are designed to conceal rather than reveal. He’s as comfortable with social media as people a quarter his age, and he’s a world-level expert on the kind of international money-laundering and shell-company chicanery used by Fortune 500 companies, mid-divorce billionaires, and international drug gangs alike. He also knows the Valley like the back of his hand, all the secret histories of charismatic company founders and Sand Hill Road VCs. Because he was there at all the beginnings. He’s not famous, except to the people who matter. He’s made some pretty powerful people happy in his time, and he’s been paid pretty well. It’s been a good life.
Now he’s been roped into a job that’s more dangerous than anything he’s ever agreed to before―and it will take every ounce of his skill to get out alive.

My Review:

Martin Hench doesn’t really believe in that saying about the best defense being a good offense. Or rather, that it may work just fine in other fields, but it doesn’t work at all in his.

Martin would describe himself as a forensic accountant. And it’s true for certain definitions of all of the words. But what Martin really does is provide leverage – and yes, that’s “leverage” in the sense of the TV series. When someone has used dirty tricks – even if said tricks are technically legal – to hide someone else’s money, Martin has the skills with money, spreadsheets and investigative techniques to figure out where that money went and get it back for you.

For 25% of the value of what gets returned. Martin is very, very good at his freelance gig.

Which is why one of his oldest and dearest friends asks Martin to clean up a terrible costly mistake. Which leads Martin into the tangled, thorny weeds of cryptocurrencies, blockchains and governmental bureaucracies determined to look the other way as long as harm gets reduced to “acceptable” levels. Meaning that their allies, agents and patsies don’t get caught with their hands in the cybersecurity cookie jar.

Martin doesn’t believe in that old saw about defenses vs. offenses because people can’t switch their mindset between being the offense – red teamers like Martin – and being on the blue team defense. From Martin’s perspective, the blue team has to be perfect 24/7/365, while the red team just needs to find one, single mistake and exploit it for all it’s worth. Usually a lot with the kind of businesses that Martin generally deals with.

But helping his friend Danny, figuring out who stole the cryptokey generating laptop that Danny should never have put together in the first place, is exactly Martin’s kind of job. An investigation into the cracks to find something hidden. It should have been an easy $250 million – or thereabouts.

When his investigation leads to three dead 20somethings and a trail of double-crosses, it becomes the kind of trouble that has Martin on the run from both the feds who want to protect their assets and the very nasty people who want to blame Martin for the doublecross.

Forcing lifelong red teamer Martin straight onto the blue team, desperate for a way to save his own life, knowing that all it will take is one mistake for it all to be over just when it’s really getting to be interesting.

Escape Rating A+: I galloped through Red Team Blues in a single sitting. It wasn’t any of the things I was expecting it to be, but it was just so damn good – and utterly compelling from the first to the last.

To the point where I seriously hope this is the start of a series (I just found out that IT IS!), because I want more of both Martin Hench’s adventures and his wryly acerbic and somewhat self-deprecative point of view.

Red Team Blues has the feel of a caper thriller. Rather like Leverage, in fact, or any thriller where the hero is running as fast as they can to get away from people who are out to get them for something they aren’t even responsible for while desperately seeking a way out of a jam that they should not even be in.

Those kinds of stories are always fun when they are done right – and Red Team Blues is absolutely done right.

What this isn’t, and what one might expect considering the author’s body of work (and that it’s published by Tor Books) is science fiction. This isn’t set in even a relatively near future. It’s now. Crypto and blockchain may not currently be in exactly the same state that they are in this story, but otherwise, it’s just now.

Which makes the whole thing just that much more fascinating, as Martin’s techniques about investigating the case and finding where the money went by mining social media and poking into publicly available information are all entirely possible. So what makes this such a compelling read is how he goes about it.

Being set in the now provides opportunities for all kinds of social and political commentary, set in Martin’s sometimes sarcastic, often world-weary, voice. In the end, I followed him because I liked him and wanted to see where he went and how he got out of the pickle that is trying to swallow him – one way or another.

So Red Team Blues is a technothriller where you don’t have to understand all the ins and outs of the techno in order to get fully immersed in the thriller. I had a ball with this one, and I hope you will too.

Martin Hench will be back next February in The Bezzle. YAY!

Review: Nightwatch by M.L. Buchman

Review: Nightwatch by M.L. BuchmanNightwatch (Miranda Chase NTSB #12) by M L Buchman
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure, political thriller, technothriller, thriller
Series: Miranda Chase NTSB #12
Pages: 370
Published by Buchman Bookworks on February 28, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

As the Arctic melts, the fabled Northwest and Northeast Passages are opening. But are they opening to war?
A Chinese freighter attacked. A sabotaged passenger jet crashed in Quebec. And high overhead an E-4B Nightwatch, America’s fortress-in-the-sky, sees all.
With nations shifting to high alert, Miranda Chase lands once more in the midst of the fray. But first she must fight battles of her own. Can she conquer the emotional chaos her autism unleashes amid the loss of her past? In time to save her team? —And avert the disaster playing out under the Northern Lights?
A tale of high adventure, airplanes, and espionage.
"Miranda is utterly compelling!" - Booklist, starred review“Escape Rating: A. Five Stars! OMG just start with Drone and be prepared for a fantastic binge-read!” -Reading Reality

My Review:

The tragedy of the Northwest Passage in the 19th century was that it wasn’t there. It was so firmly believed that expedition after expedition sailed for the Arctic, determined to trace a route that would traverse the ocean north of Canada and cut shipping time between Europe and Asia. Many explorers gave their lives in search of a route that did not exist, or in search of others whose lives had already been lost in that search.

Fast forward to the 21st century, when Nightwatch takes place. Today, the tragedy of the Northwest Passage is that it IS there.That once-impenetrable passage opened to ships without the need of an icebreaker late in the summer of 2007. Its mirror-image, the Northeast Passage (AKA Northern Sea Route) in the Arctic waters off the Russian coast, opened in 2009. From an ecological standpoint, this is a tragedy. Climate change is melting the polar ice pack. The predictions of where all that water will end up is currently the stuff of disaster movies, but coastlines will be under threat in the decades to come.

But every cloud is supposed to have a silver lining – in this story it’s a silver lining that seems to contain yet another cloud within it.

With the ice pack in retreat, regularly scheduled commercial shipping over these Northern routes will be increasingly viable, and therefore profitable, shortcuts for freight shipments around the world. Cargo shippers will be thrilled at cutting miles, fuel costs, time, and personnel costs for all of their goods.

But someone’s ox is about to get gored. It is inevitable in the long run, but in the short run they have a shot at staving off that evil day. All they have to do is make the experimental attempts at northerly freight routes seem dangerous, or unlucky, or if the saboteurs are lucky – even both.

They’re not. No plan survives contact with Miranda Chase – not even a plan involving container barges and submarines. Particularly not after one of those subs takes a potshot at the plane she’s flying in.

Escape Rating A+: I’ve been a fan of Miranda Chase from her very first investigation in Drone. While her team has gotten bigger – and scattered a bit – and the stakes in her investigations have gotten considerably higher – this series is consistently among my favorite reads. This twelfth entry in the series absolutely continues that streak of winners.

This one begins in three places – which is entirely fitting as it has three tracks that eventually crash into one. Nearly literally.

A Chinese container ship is in the midst of navigating that Northeast Passage, heading for a record breaking run and a promotion for its captain, when it is forced to drop speed and sacrifice that record because one of its screws (read as propellers sorta/kinda) has developed a fault.

Actually, it’s been encouraged to fail by a missile launched from a mysterious, and mysteriously nearby, submarine.

On practically the other side of the world, near Knowlton, Quebec, Miranda’s friends and teammates Jeremy and Taz are investigating the crash of a small passenger jet that seems to have been sabotaged – by one of its passengers. Who was himself sabotaged, and just so happens to be a high-level agent for the CIA.

While Miranda and her completely stressed out partner Andi Wu are on their way to SEATAC to pick up Andi’s high powered and highly stressFUL mother – at least from Andi’s point of view. Andi’s certain that her mother is still disappointed in her for choosing a military career instead of the legal one that her family had all planned out for her.

The cargo ship’s captain and his crew are all alive but he’s rightfully concerned about the reception he’ll receive from his superiors when he finally reaches port.

Taz is both frustrated and peeved because she’s a fan of mystery fiction in general and Louise Penny’s marvelous Chief Inspector Gamache in particular. (As am I) Jeremy doesn’t understand just how badly she wants to visit all of the local sites dedicated to her favorite detective. But the more she and Jeremy dig into this crash, the less likely it is that she’ll have any time to be a tourist.

While Miranda and Andi fly back to Spieden Island with Andi’s mother Ching Wui simmering in the passenger compartment – only to see that the entire island is on fire. Miranda’s home, her private hangar, her vintage airplanes, all her mementos of her life’s journey so far – all are lost. She panics and nearly crashes the plane she’s flying in her extreme distress.

From these three very disparate starts a compelling, page-turning, supercharged story emerges. The injured CIA agent and the dead passengers lead Miranda and her team to multiple plots from the ouster of the current – and always nefarious – head of the agency to that no-longer-speeding cargo ship to a plot to scuttle a high level conference at the edge of the Arctic to discuss – you guessed it – the potential for using that Northern Sea Route in order to get around the long transit times and ever increasing prices of traversing either the Panama or Suez Canals.

But as much as this investigation turns out to be about following the money – tensions are so high that multiple countries are on the brink of war. It’s up to Miranda and her team, with a whole lot of help from her friends, allies and even one or two downright frenemies, to put all the pieces together before it’s too late.

Miranda Chase always delivers. Nightwatch is yet another compulsively readable chapter in her ongoing adventures! I’m already looking forward to her next investigation.

One final note, as much as I love the Miranda Chase series, it added just that little something extra that Taz’ part of the story was a bit of a love letter – or at least a bit of fannish appreciation – towards Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series. Her part of the story isn’t just set in Gamache’s stomping grounds, but several of the characters, including Taz herself, are big fans of Gamache’s as will be many of the story’s readers. (For those like Jeremy who are not familiar with the Chief Inspector, the series begins with Still Life and it is marvelous and thoughtful and just a terrific set of beautiful mysteries. Just don’t judge the books by either its TV series or its movie.)

Review: Skibird by M.L. Buchman

Review: Skibird by M.L. BuchmanSkibird (Miranda Chase NTSB #11) by M L Buchman
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: political thriller, technothriller, thriller
Series: Miranda Chase NTSB #11
Pages: 364
Published by Buchman Bookworks on October 25, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

When the political battlefield spreads to Antarctica, can the team survive the deep freeze?Those who work there call Antarctica “The Ice.” A secret Russian cargo jet crashes into a crevasse near an Australian Station. The Aussies call in the top air-crash investigators on the planet.The best of them all, Miranda Chase, must face the Russians, Chinese, and use her own autistic abilities to keep her team alive. As the battle spreads across The Ice, are even her incredible skills enough?Or will they all be buried in the frozen wasteland?"Miranda is utterly compelling!" - Booklist, starred review“Escape Rating: A. Five Stars! OMG just start with Drone and be prepared for a fantastic binge-read!” -Reading Reality

My Review:

This one begins, as the entries in this series generally do, with a plane crashing. It’s just that this particular crash is a bit more inconvenient than most. (Considering that the last crash they investigated (in Lightning) was on a remote island in the South China Sea, that’s saying something.) But this one is definitely in a much dicier location.

A Russian cargo plane has crashed near Australia’s main Antarctic base, Davis Station, on Australian territory. In a crevasse. It was supposedly carrying fuel and supplies for Russia’s extremely remote Vostok base.

But when three very disparate teams show up at Davis Station to either “investigate” the crash or prevent it from being thoroughly investigated, there are a whole lot of people who are left wondering just what was in that plane that was worth dying for – or killing for.

Miranda and her team are there because the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has recalled Holly Harper from her secondment to Miranda Chase’s NTSB team – and the Chairman of the (U.S.) Joint Chiefs of Staff has requested that Miranda and the rest of the team go with her. Miranda’s expertise is clearly going to be needed.

The Russians have sent the officer in charge of their Antarctic bases from Moscow to prevent anyone from investigating the crash or even exploring the downed plane – assuming they can. Why the Chinese Central Military Commission have sent their own agent is anyone’s guess once she adds herself to this rather eclectic expedition.

Someone, or something, brought that plane down. The Russians seem dead set on making sure that no one finds out what it was carrying or who might have destroyed it – on pain of death. The Chinese seem to be operating on the principle that if the enemy of my enemy is not exactly my friend, that they and the U.S. might have coinciding interests in whatever caused the crash and/or is causing the Russians panic over the crash.

And Miranda and her team just want to find out why this old, sturdy but reliable plane, in the hands of an extremely capable pilot, turned into such an explosive crash so very far from home. Whether they can do a damn thing about the political explosions that will inevitably follow in their wake is not even on Miranda’s radar.

But she and her team are certainly on someone’s. As always.

Escape Rating A: I love Miranda, and I adore this series, but I found myself wishing that Skibird had come out in the summer. A northern hemisphere summer, that is. Because the author does an entirely too excellent job of describing the extreme conditions under which Miranda’s team conducts their Antarctic investigation. It’s already cold enough around here that I didn’t need to experience the shivers vicariously as well. I’d have appreciated the chilly scenario a lot more in the middle of an Atlanta summer.

That being said, this was a fascinating, albeit chilly, entry in this terrific series. (The series starts with Drone, it’s a compelling adventure conducted by a great team and every entry is an edge or the seat thriller in multiple ways. If any of that appeals to you, or if you’d like to read something that reads a lot like Tom Clancy before he stopped paying attention to his editor, pick up Drone and buckle up for a wild thrill ride.)

Back to hot but nearly-frozen Skibird. I need to explain that a bit.

The stories in the Miranda Chase series often have a “ripped from the headlines” feel – sometimes because they’ve anticipated the headlines. As Miranda and her team head to Antarctica, the U.S. and Russia are in the middle of a proxy war in the former Soviet Bloc countries that may be a Cold War between the major powers but a hot war on the ground. At the same time, the U.S. is in a bit of a Trade War with China while relations between the Chinese and the Russians are fractious and on the point of fracturing.

It’s a mess, and I say that without differentiating between the book and real life.

Miranda and her team are just there to investigate the crash. Miranda’s autism requires her to focus on the job at hand and ignore any chaos that may surround it. The rest of her team are there to help her maintain that focus AND deal with that chaos – often at the same time.

The Russians are clearly up to something. The Chinese are clearly up to taking advantage of the situation between the Russians’ “something” and the Americans trying to get to the bottom of it – preferably without finding themselves at the bottom of another crevasse. The political maneuvering takes place at the highest levels as well as in the lowest of places and Miranda and her team are caught in the middle of it.

But underneath the big, exploding story of crashing planes and illicit arms imports into Antarctica, there’s also a quiet and potentially even more chilling story about the relationships on the team. Holly is panicking because she never expected to be in a relationship – only to finally realize that she is and has been for a couple of years. Miranda never expected to find the level of emotional support and happiness in her life that she has found with Andi, and is worried that the relationship is founded on smoothing out her world and not on love or romance or a partnership of equals.

In other words, both Holly and Miranda are running scared in their own particular ways, causing an even bigger chill in their worlds than the ambient Antarctic temperature.

The political brinkmanship quotient in Skibird is high, the air crash problem solving is even more fraught than usual, and the relationships on the team have never been more brittle. Skibird is a page-turning delight from beginning to end – even while bundled up in the warmest blankets.

Next up for Miranda is Nightwatch, promised for early 2023. Which is a good thing, because I can’t wait!

Review: Lightning by M.L. Buchman

Review: Lightning by M.L. BuchmanLightning (Miranda Chase NTSB #10) by M L Buchman
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: political thriller, technothriller, thriller
Series: Miranda Chase NTSB #10
Pages: 388
Published by Buchman Bookworks on June 7th 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.org
Goodreads

Miranda Chase—the autistic heroine you didn’t expect. Fighting the battles no one else could win.

Revenge? A terrorist attack? Or a declaration of war?

The head of the Senate Armed Services Committee lies dead. The murder weapon? An Air Force Learjet deliberately crashed into his DC hotel room.

Half a world away in the South China Sea, an F-35C Lightning II — America’s newest fighter jet — crashes during landing. It cripples the aircraft supercarrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. An accident? Or China’s next move toward world domination?

Miranda Chase and her NTSB air-crash investigation team are spread thin as they struggle to unravel two horrific crashes at once — and halt a global firestorm before it burns them all.

Worst of all. The next target could be Miranda herself.

My Review:

As many times as M.L. Buchman’s work, particularly the Miranda Chase series, is compared with Tom Clancy, it seems fitting that the opening of Lightning is just a bit reminiscent of Clancy’s eighth Jack Ryan book, Executive Orders. That’s the one where Ryan finds himself very unexpectedly President after a plane crashes into a joint session of Congress and wipes out pretty much everyone.

Not that the crash that opens Lightning – actually, either of the crashes – does nearly as thorough a job on the entire government as that one did. But the description of that plane circling a landmark DC hotel did give me the same kind of vibe.

While President Roy Clarke in Miranda Chase’s world has already lost his VP (that’s just a tiny piece of the story in White Top) it does resemble Executive Orders, relative to its predecessor Debt of Honor, as Lightning takes place very much in the immediate wake of the events of that previous story.

Miranda’s team has just been split. Two of the members of her core team, computer genius Jeremy Trahn and Colonel Vicki “Taz” Cortez have been seconded to the Air Force office that investigates crashes AND the headquarters of the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) in a joint assignment.

Jeremy has always been Miranda’s right-hand, the person she trusts most at a crash site to do things not just as she wants them, but just as she would do them herself. Jeremy is ready to “fly the nest” and run his own team. But Miranda misses him like a limb. She functions best when her personal world remains stable and the adjustment is difficult for her.

How much of that is her autism and how much is just that she misses Jeremy and Taz because they’re part of her found family is not something she’s able to determine. Miranda knows what makes planes tick and what makes them crash, but she has very little grasp on humans and their emotions – even her own.

Jeremy and Taz arrive in DC – with all their boxes and assorted crap – to take over the investigation of the plane crash in the heart of downtown DC that wiped out more than one luxury hotel. The initial question on the very bloody table is whether the crash was aimed at the hotel or at the regular guest whose suite it landed in – the late Senator Hunter Ransom, a thorn in the side of the current administration. But more importantly, a formerly influential Senator whose many many underhanded and/or under-the-table deals in the Middle East had just fallen through with a bang.

Meanwhile, Miranda and the rest of her team are investigating a plane crash at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson near Anchorage when they get “hijacked” by an order from the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to immediately fly to the site of a disastrous crash on an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea. Because as bad as the mess at Elmendorf was, it doesn’t have even the ghost of the ghost of a chance of plunging the U.S. into war with China. If the incident aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt was caused by anything other than “pilot error” the possibility of World War III opening in its wake is not inconsiderable.

Only Miranda and her team are capable of putting the very tiny pieces of the crashed plane and the circumstances surrounding it together in a way that will reliably point the finger at “whodunnit”. What the politicians will make of the situation after that isn’t remotely part of Miranda Chase’s remit – or her genius.

Escape Rating A+: The reason that Buchman’s Miranda Chase series gets compared to Tom Clancy so often is that both are stories about political brinkmanship as seen through the eyes of someone who is so damn good at their job that they frequently upset the best laid plans of the powers-that-be or wannabe by exposing either their incompetence or their triple-crossing craziness. Or both. In Mirada’s case at least, often both.

Miranda Chase is the best crash-scene investigator that the NTSB has ever produced. The laser focus that is a part of her being on the autism spectrum allows and/or forces her to keep pursuing her goal – solving the crash – until every “i” is dotted and every “t” is crossed no matter what it takes.

The team that has coalesced around her (their origin stories are all in the marvelous Start the Chase collection) are all the best at the best of what they do, whether that’s maneuver around the humans who are inevitably part of a crash scene (Mike), analyze data from every single piece of electronic equipment on the downed craft (Jeremy), provide the pilot’s perspective for helicopters (Andi) that Miranda herself has for planes, navigate the Pentagon’s darker corners (Taz) or just protect Miranda and the rest of the team from anyone who tries to get in their way (Holly). Together they are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to finding the right needle in the crumpled haystack of a crash.

The cases that meet in a headlong collision in Lightning are up to everyone’s eyeballs with political ramifications. Even the CIA Director Clarissa Reese, who hates Miranda and her team with an incandescent fire that can probably be seen from orbit, finds herself playing nice not just with Miranda but with the Chinese government who may, or may not, or may, be the architects of this series of disasters.

Watching Miranda, her team and the powerful people she has in her corner negotiate their way out of – or at least into a delay of – what seems like an inevitable war always makes for edge-of-the-seat reading – and Lightning was absolutely no exception to that rule.

I want to say this has a happy ending, but this is set in a version of the real world that is entirely too close to what is happening right now. The news doesn’t have a happy ending, and Lightning feels so ripped from the headlines that it doesn’t either.

What it does have is a sense of breathless anticipation for the next disaster. At least Miranda and her team have a chance at kicking doom down the road until the next book. And I can’t wait to see how they manage it next time!

Review: Start the Chase by M.L. Buchman

Review: Start the Chase by M.L. BuchmanStart the Chase: a Miranda Chase Origin Story Collection by M L Buchman
Format: ebook
Source: Kickstarter
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure, political thriller, technothriller, thriller
Series: Miranda Chase NTSB #9
Pages: 318
Published by Buchman Bookworks on October 24, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Miranda Chase’s Team—before they were one!
Before they were the hottest, and most at-risk air-crash investigation team for the NTSB and the US military, the six members of Miranda Chase’s team had each started along very unique paths.
Courtesy of backers of The Great Chase tabletop game Kickstarter, their pasts are revealed. Discover why each team member’s future turned out so differently than they planned.
Six exciting stories filled with challenges, disasters, and triumphs. Five stories with fans as guest characters. A fun and wild flight.

My Review:

I usually have a hard time getting myself stuck into short story or novella collections, but Start the Chase was definitely an exception. Just as Miranda Chase herself is an exception in so many fascinating ways.

In the middle of a week that has gone completely off the rails, I was looking for something that I could get sucked into instantly that wouldn’t let me go until the end, and the Miranda Chase series has been good for that from the very first book, Drone.

But there haven’t been any new books in the series for a few months, as the author has been busy taking care of all the good business that was generated when he got his rights back to his earliest work. Which I loved from all the way back in The Night is Mine, lo those many years ago at the beginning of Reading Reality. So if you love military romance, now is a great time to start or restart his Night Stalkers series and all the deliciously good books that followed.

Howsomever, let’s get back to Miranda Chase and her team, which is where I started. I got a notification about the tenth book in the series, Lightning, coming out in June, which reminded me that I hadn’t read the ninth book in the series, Start the Chase, even though I participated in the Kickstarter.

I needed to get lost in a book and a world that I was already familiar with, and I wanted to read Start the Chase before Lightning struck, so here we are.

The stories in Start the Chase are all origin stories. Which makes this a great place to start the series if you aren’t already part of the action.

What makes the stories special is that they show us the characters we have come to know and love at pivot points in their lives. Specifically the pivot that changed their courses into the one that eventually intersected with Miranda Chase and the rest of her team. To kick things off there’s the pivotal moment when Miranda investigated her very first plane crash on her very own.

She had to do the investigation on her own, because the crash she was investigating was also her own. On her way to her first class at the NTSB her private plane crashed in the desolate forest between Washington State and Idaho. Miranda was the pilot and the only person aboard. Her meticulous investigation of a crash that she honestly didn’t expect to be rescued from kept her sane until her rescuers surprised her and themselves by finding her alive. She learned a valuable lesson in this story, and we learned a lot about her. Not that a lot of her past hasn’t come up over the course of the series, but this particular bit of detail was something special.

For each member of the team, the story in Start the Chase is just as pivotal as Miranda’s High Passage, Holly Harper’s story, Holly Games a New Path, begins during one of Holly’s darkest moments. She has just left the Australian Special Forces after the loss of her entire team. A new friend drags her to, of all places, a gaming convention, where Holly, costumed as Captain Marvel, discovers that she still has friends both in and out of the service, and that there’s a surprising, but surprisingly interesting opportunity for her if she is willing to seize the day.

Mike’s Last Big Con is the story that comes the closest to the opening of the Miranda Chase series, as we see the secretive Mike in his last undercover job for the FBI as it all goes completely pear-shaped. Working with Miranda is going to require that the long-time conman live on the straight and narrow – a place with which he is not even remotely familiar.

All six of the stories provide insights into characters we think we know. There have been hints before, but this collection fleshes out the details of how they ended up on the path that leads to the team. For fans of the series, it gives us an up close and personal look at people we thought we knew. For those coming in, it’s a great way of seeing who they were as individuals before they jostled their way into becoming part of such a marvelous whole.

Escape Rating A: I loved this collection. I got sucked in right away and didn’t get shaken out until the end – wishing there were more. Or wishing that Lightning was here now and not next month. I’ve missed Miranda and the gang and it was fantastic to spend time with them again.

Because this collection was produced as part of a Kickstarter campaign for The Great Chase Tabletop Game that Miranda and her team play during the later books in the series, there’s an additional fascinating piece to this collection of great stories.

One of the backer levels for the Kickstarter was the opportunity for five people to get themselves written into the individual stories as secondary characters. (This is called Tuckerization after the SF author Wilson “Bob” Tucker. I only mention this because once upon a time, when I went to a LOT of SF cons, I knew Tucker a bit. I digress.)

In Miranda’s story she’s alone, that’s a huge part of the point of the story after all. But in all of the other stories the secondary character who helps push or guide Miranda’s future team member into the path that leads them there is one of these backers. All of the stories include more than a bit of real detail about those backers, along with a way for readers to support the charities of their choice. So there’s a prompt to do a bit of good in the world – which seems to need it now more than ever – along with a terrific story.

If you like political thrillers, technothrillers and/or competence porn, you absolutely cannot go wrong following Miranda Chase and her team. Lightning can’t strike my TBR pile soon enough!

Review: White Top by M.L. Buchman

Review: White Top by M.L. BuchmanWhite Top (Miranda Chase NTSB #8) by M L Buchman
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure, political thriller, technothriller, thriller
Series: Miranda Chase NTSB #8
Pages: 360
Published by Buchman Bookworks on May 25, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.org
Goodreads

Miranda Chase—the heroine you didn’t expect. Fighting the battles no one else could win.
The White Top helicopters of HMX-1 are known by a much more familiar name: Marine One. The S-92A, the newest helicopter in the HMX fleet, enters service after years of testing.
When their perfect safety record lies shattered across the National Mall, Miranda Chase and her team of NTSB crash investigators go in. They must discover if it was an accident, a declaration of war, or something even worse.

My Review:

I’ve always found shopping in Walmart to be generally depressing, so I don’t go there often. But the Walmart scene in this story is enough to make me swear off the place for life! Possibly you will too, when you read the literally explosive details of a helicopter crashing into a Walmart and turning the entire huge store PLUS the surrounding parking lot into a gigantic fireball.

That the helicopter that crashed is Marine Two, carrying the Vice-President, is what pushes the crash into the path of the NTSB’s pre-eminent investigator, Miranda Chase, along with her crack team of top-notch experts into the investigation.

Not that she might not have been called in anyway, come to think of it, but Miranda and her team are the only NTSB team with the security clearance to deal with the potential causes and the political fallout of an entirely too successful attempt to sabotage one of the most secure aircraft in the nation’s entire arsenal.

And all of that is exactly what I read this series for. Miranda and her team are beyond excellent in their specialties, making every single book in this series an absolute delight of competence porn. There’s something absolutely fascinating about watching a bunch of interesting people do their complex jobs at the peak of pretty much everything.

The group that has coalesced around Miranda is one of the best teams it has ever been my pleasure to read about, and I mean that in both senses of the word “best”. Because they are all so damn good at their jobs – see above paragraph about competence porn.

But they are also a delight to read about and follow along with. Each member of the team has their own place, from Holly, the former Australian Special Forces operator who serves as the team’s muscle, to Mike, the human factors specialist, to Andi, the helicopter expert – much needed for particular crash, to Jeremy, the expert in all things geek and also Miranda’s “Mini-Me”.

That last bit turns out to be an important part of the story as far as the ongoing development of the characters is concerned. It’s getting to be time for Jeremy to leave the nest. It’s up to Miranda’s team, especially that human factors specialist, to help Miranda – who does not like change at all – to realize that it’s time to give Jeremy the opportunity to learn, grow and fail as a team leader so that he can be ready to become the Investigator in Charge (IIC) of his own team.

Which intersects both well and badly with the crash of Marine Two. It’s time for Jeremy to learn to lead, but this is not the crash he can “officially” lead. Too much is at stake and too much is at risk.

That’s where the other thing I love about this series comes in. In the Miranda Chase series, that the author has managed to out-intrigue one of the masters of the political intrigue genre, Tom Clancy. Buchman does it better in this story and this series, at least in part because it feels like he has an editor he actually listens to. (That is an opinion and I have no actual knowledge, but having read Clancy let’s say that the first books were great and then they got bloated. IMHO for what that’s worth.)

The setup for this story goes all the way back to the very first book in this awesome series, Drone. And it all pays off beautifully here, as the sabotage links back to players on the international stage who are in cahoots with power brokers in the U.S.

We follow along with Miranda as she and her team figure out how it was done, and we have a ringside seat as one of the prime movers and shakers of the whole series learns just how far her thirst for power has managed to lead her away from achieving her dream of it.

Escape Rating A+: The scenes of the two opening crashes, of which the Walmart crash was the second, are gruesome in their dispassionate recital of just how terrible and terrifying the loss of life was. (There were many times more dismemberments than in the book earlier this week.)

But this series is not about the gore, it’s about how the pattern of the crash – including the gore – allows Miranda and her team to figure out what happened. The purpose of that “figuring out” in normal life is to eliminate any design or mechanical factors that are capable of happening again – so they don’t.

In this particular instance, because this is a political thriller as much as it is anything else, the purpose of figuring out what happened is about assigning blame – and if possible, taking vengeance.

Although that part is not usually Miranda’s bailiwick. Not that she occasionally doesn’t end up in the thick of it anyway. But then, Miranda goes where the clues lead her, whether anyone wants her to go there or not.

In this case, those clues lead her, her team, her mentor and her president to a few inexorable conclusions. Conclusions that will certainly factor into where this series goes next. And I am so there for wherever that turns out to be. I’m just mad that the author is making me wait until next freaking year to find out!

But at least I got to see Miranda’s team punch the lights out of her douchecanoe ex-boyfriend, not once but twice. And he got tased again. The women on Miranda’s team stick up for her, for each other, and for the team and definitely for the win!

Review: Rabbits by Terry Miles

Review: Rabbits by Terry MilesRabbits by Terry Miles
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, technothriller, thriller
Series: Rabbits #1
Pages: 448
Published by Del Rey Books on June 8, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.org
Goodreads

Conspiracies abound in this surreal and yet all-too-real technothriller in which a deadly underground alternate reality game might just be altering reality itself, set in the same world as the popular Rabbits podcast.
It's an average work day. You've been wrapped up in a task, and you check the clock when you come up for air--4:44 pm. You go to check your email, and 44 unread messages have built up. With a shock, you realize it is April 4th--4/4. And when you get in your car to drive home, your odometer reads 44,444. Coincidence? Or have you just seen the edge of a rabbit hole?
Rabbits is a mysterious alternate reality game so vast it uses our global reality as its canvas. Since the game first started in 1959, ten iterations have appeared and nine winners have been declared. Their identities are unknown. So is their reward, which is whispered to be NSA or CIA recruitment, vast wealth, immortality, or perhaps even the key to unlocking the secrets of the universe itself. But the deeper you get, the more deadly the game becomes. Players have died in the past--and the body count is rising.
And now the eleventh round is about to begin. Enter K--a Rabbits obsessive who has been trying to find a way into the game for years. That path opens when K is approached by billionaire Alan Scarpio, the alleged winner of the sixth iteration. Scarpio says that something has gone wrong with the game and that K needs to fix it before Eleven starts or the whole world will pay the price.
Five days later, Scarpio is declared missing. Two weeks after that, K blows the deadline and Eleven begins. And suddenly, the fate of the entire universe is at stake.

My Review:

R U playing? That’s the question that runs through the entire book. Are you playing Rabbits?

There’s a quote attributed to Mary Kay Ash – yes, the cosmetics queen – that goes, “If you think you can, you can. And if you think you can’t, you’re right.” (There are also variations attributed to Henry Ford, but I like her version better.) With Rabbits, it’s more that if you think you’re playing, you might be, but if you think you’re not, you’re probably right. But whether or not you are playing Rabbits, Rabbits is definitely playing you. You just don’t know it. By the time you do know, it’s too late. Too late for you, and possibly too late for the rest of us as well.

If you’re a bit confused by the above, you’re not alone. And you’re not supposed to be. That’s Rabbits.

What is certain, for select, certain, Rabbits-induced values of certainty, is that when the story opens, our protagonist K is not playing Rabbits. At least at the moment. Because the eleventh round of the long-running game – just how long its been running is a matter for serious debate – is about to begin but hasn’t – yet.

So K is in the middle of giving a somewhat roundabout introductory lecture into the world of Rabbits, being extremely circumlocutory because the first rule of Rabbits is that no one ever talks either directly or straightforwardly about Rabbits. He’s also passing the hat because being a Rabbits player isn’t exactly a way to make a living.

Winning is even better than winning the lottery, but the odds of winning are probably equal to the odds of winning the lottery if not, honestly, a bit worse. Very much on that infamous other hand, playing the lottery won’t get you killed. Playing Rabbits just might.

Especially if, like K and his friends, you’re asked to investigate why Rabbits players are dropping dead at even greater than normal rates. There’s something rotten in the current state of Rabbits, and K has to fix it before it’s too late.

If he can figure out what it is. Or where it is. Or even IF it really is. Without revealing much, if anything about what he’s really doing. Because the game might be out to get him. Or it might not. After all, it’s Rabbits.

Escape Rating C+: Rabbits (the book) is, honestly, fairly confusing. The book is supposed to stand alone from the podcast of the same name by the same author, and I’m not 100% sure that it does. I’m also not sure it doesn’t, but that’s Rabbits for you.

I think part of my confusion with the story was that it was presented to me as science fiction, so I was expecting it to be more SFnal than it turned out to be. There is a bit of true SF, but that felt like handwavium rather than being part of the meat of the story.

The story, at its heart, reads like a thriller. K and his friends are tasked with fixing the game before it starts its next iteration and even more terrible things happen. They are under a tremendous amount of pressure and absolutely do not know what they’re doing.

They are paranoid, but there really does seem to be someone out to get them. And paranoia as a state of mind feels like it’s a requirement for playing Rabbits in the first place. Which does a terrific job of ratcheting up the slow building tension of the entire story.

There were plenty of points where the book reminded me of Ready Player One, but that’s also a bit of a misdirection. The stakes turn out to actually be higher in Rabbits, but the game itself is a conspiracy theorist’s dream. Ready Player One, after all, is a game where the players know they are participating, and where, while they may not share tips and tricks with their competitors, discussion of the game is going on pretty much everywhere.

Rabbits is a real-world game, where obsessed people find patterns everywhere in everything (like noticing that once you buy a car you start seeing that make and model of car EVERYWHERE). Some of the patterns that Rabbits players see are part of the game, but some are just the mind playing tricks and some are simply coincidence and the players seem to have very few ways of figuring out which witch is which or even if there are any witches at all. (Mixing metaphors to the point of absurdity.)

So I finished Rabbits feeling not exactly satisfied. As a thriller the SFnal handwavium didn’t quite work for me. As SF, there just wasn’t nearly enough SF there. I liked the characters, but the story didn’t gel because of the handwavium.

But it’s fascinating if you enjoy stories that are chock-full of conspiracy theories, where the stakes are high and the characters are never sure which way is up. Or even if there is an “up” at all. If you threw Ready Player One, The Matrix and and the TV series Lost into an extremely high-tech blender fueled by whatever was fueling the Heart of Gold in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy you might get something like Rabbits. Play if you dare.

Review: Havoc by M.L. Buchman

Review: Havoc by M.L. BuchmanHavoc (Miranda Chase NTSB #7) by M L Buchman
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure, technothriller, thriller
Series: Miranda Chase NTSB #7
Pages: 374
Published by Buchman Bookworks on April 27, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.org
Goodreads

When one of their own is threatened—the nation’s #1 air-crash investigation team enters a race to survive.

An airliner downed on a Pacific atoll. A CIA covert strike team sent in to “clean it up.” An old enemy seeks revenge. This time, the NTSB’s autistic air-crash investigator, Miranda Chase, and her team are in the crosshairs. The action races around the globe as US military airbases become shooting galleries and their lives are placed on the line.

And hidden from sight? A treacherous plan to grab political power and start a new war with Russia in the Middle East. Only Miranda’s team stands in their way, if they can survive.

My Review:

As Miranda Chase’s team has pulled together over the course of this marvelous series, each person that has joined has occupied a specific and necessary niche.

Necessary for the team to function at its incredibly high peak of capability, and necessary for Miranda to be able to manage her world. She needs every person in their proper place so that she can concentrate on why the downed aircraft in front of her abruptly stopped being in its proper place – flying safely through the sky.

But in Havoc, the seventh book in this awesome series, one of the key members of Miranda’s team has gone, not exactly walkabout, as much as Australian Holly Hunter wishes she truly were.

Holly was on her way to tie up the loose ends left by the deaths of her parents in remote Tenant Creek, a tiny town in the middle of Australia’s Northern Territory. The place that Holly left at 16, half a lifetime ago, and tried never to look back at through her military career in her country’s special forces and her secondment from the Australian TSB to Miranda’s team in the US NTSB.

Holly has always occupied the “lancer” position in Miranda’s now-larger-than-5-man band. Holly’s the muscle and she handles security. She’s also Miranda’s truest friend in a way that neither woman has much experience with.

So the team is off-kilter and a bit off their game when Holly is away. An absence that gets extended when Holly’s flight “home” is forced to crash on a remote Pacific atoll. That crash scene is barely squared away when a high-profile crash drags Miranda and the rest of the team to Syria. It’s only after she finally reaches Australia that Holly discovers the reason for both crashes.

It’s not paranoia if someone really is out to get you. When that someone is a pissed-off, psychotic Russian elite operative who has been locked in a box for a year and is willing to start a real honest-to-badness war in order to make sure you go down, even Holly’s extreme paranoia isn’t nearly enough.

But Holly is. No matter what it takes to save Miranda and the rest of the team she calls “home”.

Escape Rating A: The plot of Havoc is a story where all of the chickens from a previous adventure in this series, Condor, all come home to roost. I’m not sure you need to have read the ENTIRE series to get into Havoc as much as I did – although it’s awesome and I don’t know why you wouldn’t – but I don’t think it would work at all to start with Havoc. In this case, to get up to speed quickly you’d need to read both the first book, Drone, and Condor before Havoc.

But the whole series is totally awesome and well worth a read. Truly.

Back to those chickens coming home to roost in this story. There are two elements of Condor that come back to haunt this time around

The first is that Miranda’s friends-with-benefits relationship with Major Jon Swift of the US Air Force Accident Investigation Board comes to an abrupt end with the shock of a Taser. Literally. Deservedly. And oh-thank-goodness finally. Back in Condor it seemed like the relationship might actually work, but Major Swift turned into Major PIA (Pain in the Ass) long before Miranda slapped him in the face early in this story. He won’t be missed by anyone. Not even Miranda.

The second, biggest and baddest of those “chickens” is the Russian Zaslon operative, Elayne Kasparak that the team beat in the earlier story. Holly turned out to be the nemesis that brought Kasparak down. Once she was captured, Holly made a deal with Miranda’s rival-turned-frenemy, CIA Director Clarissa Reese because Miranda didn’t like the idea of just killing her. No matter how much she seriously deserved it..

Kasparak was supposed to spend the rest of her life locked up in one of the CIA’s infamous Black Sites. When she learns that Kasparak has somehow managed to escape the inescapable, Holly knows that Kasparak is responsible for both recent plane crashes and that she’s gunning for Holly with everything she’s got.

Which is 10-pounds of crazy in a 5-pound sack with knives and guns pointed at everyone and everything Holly holds dear. As far as Kasparak is concerned, any collateral damage she racks up along the way is just icing on her crazycake.

As this story was going on, and the stakes just kept getting higher and higher, and I started to get a bit desperate to see what happened next, I still found myself stopping in the middle for a bit. Not because it was bad, but because it was so good and I was so caught up in it and I discovered that I cared about Holly so damn much that I couldn’t bear to read her pain.

And it just kept getting more and more painful as it goes, as we learn both about what made Holly who and what she is – and what she’ll go through to take care of everyone she has claimed as her own.

This is one where the tension just ramps up past 11 and keeps right on going. Even a bit past the end.

Not that the story of Miranda’s team has ended when the reader closes Havoc. Which left me with a terrible book hangover. I don’t merely want, I absolutely NEED to find out what happens after the end of this book. But the next book in the series, White Top, won’t be out for a month or two, and I don’t even have an ARC yet, so I’ll have to wait.

My fingernails may not survive.

Review: Chinook by M.L. Buchman

Review: Chinook by M.L. BuchmanChinook (Miranda Chase NTSB #6) by M L Buchman
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure, suspense, technothriller, thriller
Series: Miranda Chase NTSB #6
Pages: 360
Published by Buchman Bookworks on March 23, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.org
Goodreads

Miranda Chase—the heroine you didn’t expect. Fighting the battles no one else could win.
When the fastest and most powerful helicopters in the US Army’s fleet start falling out of the sky, Miranda Chase and her team of NTSB crash investigators are called in.
One crash leads to another and they are fast entangled in a Chinese conspiracy to start a war. Only Miranda’s team can stop the trade war from becoming a real one.

My Review:

Chinook is the second book in what looks to be the second quartet of Miranda Chase’s “adventures” as the lead investigator for the NTSB. There’s a lot to unpack in that description.

The NTSB is the National Transportation Safety Board. That’s the agency that investigates aircraft crashes. I say aircraft and not airplanes because the NTSB is called in for helicopter accidents as well as plane crashes. They’re the folks who determine how it crashed, why it crashed, whether any human agency is responsible for the crash and especially what can and should be done to prevent the same type of crash of the same type of aircraft happening again.

Miranda Chase, introduced in the awesome military suspense thriller Drone, is a lead investigator for the NTSB. She’s also THE lead investigator they have, the one who gets called in whenever a crash is particularly strange, particularly difficult to figure out or particularly or even tangentially involves the military. Not that the military services don’t have their own agencies to deal with this kind of thing, but when things get weird, or complicated, or just don’t seem to make sense at first glance OR (very big OR here) when the powers that be in Washington believe that there might be a coverup going on, Miranda and her team get called.

They’re the very best at what they do. And that’s all down to Miranda. Not just because she’s the best investigator they have, but because the team that has gathered around her are each the best at their parts of the investigation and the best at protecting Miranda and keeping her on task.

Miranda Chase is on the autism spectrum, and the hyperfocus that her place on that spectrum gives her is part of what makes her so very good at her job – and so very bad at dealing with the people and politics that want to either get in her way, derail her completely or just remove her from the picture – occasionally permanently.

The first four books in the series (Drone, Thunderbolt, Condor and Ghostrider) were all about putting Miranda’s team together and watching them work. Also, and mostly importantly watching them come together as a team and find the best way to work together, both in spite of and because of all of their collective quirks, idiosyncrasies and baggage from a set of generally messy pasts.

The second series which begins with Raider, at least so far, seems to be about adding the right people to the team and tying up the loose ends dangling after their previous adventures. Along with more than a bit of romance as each team member becomes confident enough of their place in Miranda’s world to reach out for someone who can make their life even more complete.

Even if, in the case of Miranda’s friend and chief geek Jeremy Tranh, the person he’s looking at to fill that kind of role in his life is supposed to be dead.

Escape Rating A: It’s not exactly a secret that I love this series, and this latest entry is absolutely no exception whatsoever.

One of the reasons I love it so much is that Miranda Chase and her team are high-grade (and high-octane) competence porn. They’re good at their jobs. They are, in fact, the best of the best at their jobs. They make an excellent team and they know it. They enjoy being good and capable and that part of the story is always wonderful.

We don’t celebrate competence and excellence nearly enough so it’s always a joy to read.

This series also reminds me of the best of Tom Clancy. The edge of the seat thriller-ness of really good people fighting the good fight on behalf of the actually decent folks in government and the military – while never implying that ALL the people in government or the military are good or even halfway decent. But also not claiming that they are all villains either. Just that they’re human with all the faults and virtues that can imply.

It also Clancy with either a sense of when to stop or a damn good editor or both. Clancy’s later books got to be extremely door-stoppy. This series – actually all of this author’s books – are tight and tense and never run on with themselves.

Another plus, at least so far, is that the individual stories do stand kind of alone, but they also hook back to previous events with at least enough backstory to bring readers for whom it’s been awhile or those new to the series, up to speed.

There are pieces of this particular case that go all the way back to the first book, Drone. And the new member of the team isn’t new to the series. She was on the sorta/kinda opposite side in Ghostrider – and she stole Jeremy’s heart along the way – unwilling to recognize that he kept hers as well.

But there is, as there always is, a crash investigation at the heart of this story, wrapped up in a whole lot of political shenanigans both here and especially in this case, in the highest echelons of a government who is not exactly numbered among the United States friends. It’s up to Miranda and her team to discover what is at the heart of not one but two crashes, a Chinook helicopter in the middle of an airshow in the U.S., and something bigger and considerably more deadly on a beach in Taiwan.

And it’s a tense and suspense-filled ride every step – and on every aircraft – along the way.

The next book in this series is Havoc, coming in late April. I’m already on the edge of my seat in anticipation!