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 & NobleKoboBook Depository
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 & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
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 & NobleKoboBook Depository
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
Pages: 448
Published by Del Rey Books on June 8, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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. 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 & NobleKoboBook Depository
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 & NobleKoboBook Depository
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!

Review: Raider by M.L. Buchman

Review: Raider by M.L. BuchmanRaider Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: espionage, technothriller, thriller
Series: Miranda Chase NTSB #5
Pages: 360
Published by Buchman Bookworks on January 26, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Miranda Chase—the heroine you didn’t expect. Fighting the battles no one else could win.
The US Army’s brand-new S-97 Raider reconnaissance helicopter goes down during final acceptance testing — hard. Cause: a failure, or the latest in a series of cyberattacks by Turkey.
Miranda Chase, an autistic air-crash genius, and her team of NTSB investigators tackle the challenge. They must find the flaw, save the Vice President, and stop the US being forced into the next war in the Middle East. And they have to do it now!

My Review:

There are several ways to approach Raider and the entire Miranda Chase series – and they all work because the series is just so damn good.

Miranda Chase is a savant when it comes to figuring out the cause of aircraft crashes, no matter how often the only way to solve the puzzle is to start from the old Sherlock Holmes aphorism that goes, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

So many of Miranda and her team’s solutions veer into the airspace of very improbable indeed, right up to the point where they prove, yet again, that improbability happens – and that they are the best team in the world at figuring it out.

And speaking of the team, another way of approaching this series is as a brilliant exercise in “competence porn”. Miranda and her team are the very best at what they do. Not just Miranda with her bone-deep desire to prevent the kind of crash that killed her parents, combined with the extreme focus on the task accompanied by a complete lack of ability to deal with social cues that is part of her autism spectrum disorder.

But it’s also about the team that she has gathered around her, because they are ALL the best at what they do, even if, as happens to both long-term team member and human factors specialist Mike and newcomer and helicopter specialist Andi, more than occasionally individual team members wonder what it is that they, personally are bringing to Miranda’s table.

Even the best of the best get slapped with impostor syndrome now and again.

Last but not least, for those who experience an occasional sense of nostalgia for the big, meaty, complicated spy games and government con games of the late Tom Clancy , the Miranda Chase series will definitely remind such readers of the internecine government warfare that was at the heart of so many of Clancy’s best – without the heft. (His later books did get kind of doorstoppy.)

Because this adventure, like ALL of Miranda’s adventures, combines plane crashes, government skullduggery, political one-upmanship (also one-upwomanship), brinkmanship that almost but not quite flies over that brink, with spy games and digital warfare on each and every side.

And it’s a thrill-a-minute ride every step of the way.

Escape Rating A: The Miranda Chase series just keeps getting better and better. I’m not the only reviewer saying it, but it bears repeating, so I’m repeating it. The series began in late 2019 with Drone and it has been just the perfect antidote to everything that went wrong in 2020. It features fascinating people solving convoluted problems with the occasional help and just as frequent stonewalling by a government that seems torn between getting shit done and turning on itself.

But competence and capability always triumph in this series, no matter what the odds or who is stacking them up.

This entry in the series ups the ante both in the solution to the series of crashes they are investigating and in their hair-raising escape from the results of that investigation – when it turns out they desperately need to escape a possibly hostile country with the Vice-President, the top-secret parts of Air Force Two, 60-something nuclear warheads and themselves intact while someone back in DC hacks that same country’s cyber warfare capability. It’s all in a day’s work – actually several almost totally sleepless days’ work – for Miranda and Co.

The other fascinating part of this entry in the series, in addition to the usual air crashes and spy games, is that the team has finally become a five-man band with the introduction of Captain Andrea (Andi) Wu, a helicopter pilot and not-fully-trained NTSB agent who was honorably discharged from the Night Stalkers with PTSD after her copilot took a grenade and saved her life and her helicopter. A helicopter that has just gone down in a mysterious crash.

Andi needs a purpose. Miranda and her team need an expert in all things helicopter, as well as someone who can speak fluent “soldier” when their investigation takes them to military bases, as it frequently does.

As this story winds its way from Denali to Groom Lake to Incirlik Air Base, Andi has to pull herself together, make a place for herself on the already tight-knit team, and help solve the puzzle of what happened to the experimental helicopter that she and her partner used to fly in a crash that shouldn’t have happened but absolutely did.

Raider is a spy story. And a military story. A puzzle-solving mystery. It’s Andi’s story. And especially and always it’s Miranda’s story – even if she never sees herself at the center of anything except an investigation.

This series is always exciting, nail-biting, and utterly marvelous. It can be read in any order but it’s especially wonderful if you start at the very beginning with Drone. Be prepared for Miranda and her team to take you on one wild ride after another.

Buckle up! Miranda Chase will be back in March in Chinook.

Review: Ghostrider by M.L. Buchman

Review: Ghostrider by M.L. BuchmanGhostrider (Miranda Chase NTSB #4) Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure, technothriller, thriller
Series: Miranda Chase NTSB #4
Pages: 354
Published by Buchman Bookworks on June 23, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An AC-130J “Ghostrider”—the latest variant of America’s Number One ground-attack plane for over fifty years—goes down in the Colorado Rockies. Except the data doesn’t match the airframe.

Air-crash savant Miranda Chase and her NTSB team are sent in to investigate. But what they uncover reveals a far greater threat—sabotage.

It could be a prelude to a whole new type of war; this time one far too close to home.

My Review:

The more I read this series, (I’ve read them all so far and loved every one of them, including this one), the more they remind me of Tom Clancy. Not the politics. Clancy’s viewpoint was all over his books, his political agenda was fairly clear. But the competence porn aspect of Clancy’s work, that all of his operatives knew what the hell they were doing and were heroes because of it, that part is certainly present in Miranda Chase and her series. Along with the smart banter and back-and-forth asides that pepper Clancy’s work.

Miranda Chase and her team are just plain fun to be with, and they are damn good at their jobs. In fact, they are the best team that the NTSB has. It is great watching them work.

Also nail-bitingly tense when they get just a bit too involved with that work, as they do in Ghostrider.

Miranda Chase is a savant when it comes to determining the cause of airplane crashes. She’s also extremely intelligent as well as autistic. And all of her gifts are a part of making her who and what she is – which is totally awesome if not always socially aware. In fact she’s seldom socially aware, but it is NEVER played for laughs.

The Ghostrider in this particular instance is certainly NOT the Marvel character, but rather, like the titles of all the books in this series, an airplane, specifically a military airplane, the Lockheed AC-130J Ghostrider, that has crashed near Aspen. And, like all of the other planes – and plans – that have crashed so far in this series, there’s something “off” about this particular crash and Miranda and her team are called in to investigate.

An investigation that turns up a whole bunch of red flags and something completely weird that would normally take the incident off of Miranda’s docket. She became an NTSB investigator in order to figure out what caused each crash she investigates so that it can’t happen again.

But this crash wasn’t a mechanical or technical failure. It wasn’t even pilot error. It was a deliberate crash caused by the pilot. Miranda can help make planes safer, but she has zero insights in making humans less stupid or insane – or whatever this mess might be attributable to.

She’s about to sign off when a second Ghostrider crashes, this time in California, also due to sabotage, while Miranda is closing out the Colorado investigation. It becomes clear that there’s something bigger and much more dangerous going on.

A something that Miranda and her team find themselves literally in the middle of. And something that some of them might not get out of alive.

Escape Rating A: The previous story in this series, Condor, had a lot to do with the emotional baggage that Miranda’s team is carrying. The series begins with Miranda’s baggage, that she became an NTSB investigator in order to prevent other children from losing their parents in plane crashes. But that story had a lot to do with Holly’s baggage, with the reasons that she left the Australian SAS. This story deals with other people’s baggage. Whole truckloads of it. Or perhaps that should be cargo loads?

The Ghostrider crashes that the team investigates aren’t random, aren’t mechanical, aren’t technical, aren’t pilot “error”. But they certainly are pilot-caused, just that the pilots acted deliberately and not accidentally.

Like many of the stories in this series – and OMG just start with Drone and be prepared for a fantastic binge-read – the reasons for both the crashes involve a whole lot of skullduggery at the highest levels.

Along with a retiring general who wants to go out, not exactly in a blaze of glory, but with the satisfaction of a necessary job done. Alternatively with the satisfaction of taking a whole bunch of bastards that need killing out with him. It’s all a matter of perspective.

One is left with the feeling that his cause is righteous, but his methods create way too much collateral damage and have the potential to create a whole lot more. It’s a question about whether the ends justify the means in a case where there are no easy answers – and there shouldn’t be.

That the heroes and the sorta/kinda villains in this one turn out to be, not exactly on the same side, but not exactly on opposite sides, makes for an edge-of-the-seat thriller that will have readers white-knuckling through the middle and gasping at the end – while still thinking about where the big picture went wrong and what different actions might have made it go right. Or at least right-er.

So a great story, fantastic characters, thrilling action and some thought provoked in the end. A job very well done, both for Miranda’s team and for the author of this terrific series. May there be many, many more!

Review: Thunderbolt by M.L. Buchman

Review: Thunderbolt by M.L. BuchmanThunderbolt (Miranda Chase NTSB #2) Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: technothriller, thriller
Series: Miranda Chase NTSB #2
Pages: 440
Published by Buchman Bookworks on December 17, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The best ground-attack support fighter jets ever built—the A-10 Thunderbolt “Warthogs”—are falling out of the sky.

The Air Force brass repeatedly schemes to decommission this low-tech jet. They’ve been blocked by soldiers, pilots, and Congress…so far.

The “Hog” lies at the crux of a high-tech struggle for power. An interagency skirmish that now rapidly descends into a battle fought on a global scale.

Miranda Chase, air-crash savant for the National Transportation Safety Board, and her team dive in. The high-risk stakes mount in the battlespace—and a secret from their past could make them the next target. Miranda may become the spark that ignites a war.

My Review:

“Friendly fire” – it sounds kind of warm and snuggly, doesn’t it? In a video game it can be no big deal – except for maybe the resulting trash talk. But in real life, in a real life military situation, it doesn’t matter whether the fire comes from friendlies or foes – because the result is just as deadly no matter who pulls the trigger. It also doesn’t matter whether you know which end of the fire you are on – or why you are on it or why it is happening at all. If it is really happening at all.

The story in Thunderbolt is a wheels-within-wheels political technothriller – the kind the Tom Clancy used to write.

But Miranda Chase isn’t like any of Clancy’s heroes – or anyone else’s. Clarissa Reese, on the other hand, is just the kind of self-centered and villainous operate that Clancy used to wrap whole books around.

And the matchup between Chase and Reese is an absolute doozy every step of the way – even if – or especially because Chase never sees it that way.

All that Miranda Chase ever sees is that there’s a plane (or two, or in this case nine) down, and that it’s up to her to figure out why it happened – so that she can prevent it from ever happening again. Or at least prevent it from ever happening again the exact same way.

After all, that’s why Chase joined the NTSB in the first place, to prevent anyone else from losing their parents the same way that she lost hers – in a crash. Her single-minded focus – and possibly her neuro-atypicality – has made her a savant that even the military calls upon when the situation goes really really pear-shaped. And it makes her a fantastic protagonist for this thrill-a-minute ride of a series.

Miranda Chase doesn’t seem to ever be the person that anyone expects – but when she’s what they need to solve the most complicated problem – she always delivers.

Escape Rating A: I enjoyed Thunderbolt even more than I did the first book in Miranda Chase’s series, Drone. And I liked that one an awful lot. But Thunderbolt is even better – at least in part because the team has already been introduced and set up, so now we get to sit back and enjoy the ride as we watch them work.

Part of what I love about this series so far is the team dynamic. It isn’t quite a “Five-Man Band” or at least not yet, but the roles that the members play do mirror the members of the trope, while at the same time turning the whole thing a bit on its head. Miranda, of course is the leader, and Jeremy is definitely the Smart Guy, but the “Chick” in this group is Mike, the only person whose specialty is human dynamics and not engineering or geekery of any kind. And in a complete subversion, the role of the Lancer (second-in-command) and Big Guy strongman is former SAS operative Holly. So a woman is in the traditional masculine roles while a man is in the traditional female role.

I like a good subversion when it works and this one definitely does.

The other fun thing about this series so far is that both the hero and the villain are women. Women who are at the top of their fields and are both smart and successful. They also represent very different versions of female protagonists/antagonists, as one uses her sexuality as a tool in her arsenal while the other acts as if she doesn’t have any. Another contrast is that one does most of her work through other people, while the other leads from the front. One is very much a manipulator while the other honestly doesn’t understand how other people think or what other people feel well enough to manipulate anyone. Her people follow her because they want to – and with eyes wide open.

I will also say that the while both women are cold in their own ways, it’s Clarissa’s cold calculation of means and ends that really sent chills up my spine. And I hope we get to see her comeuppance in a not too distant entry in the series.

But what makes this book and this series stand out is the edge-of-the-seat thriller of the plot. Just as with the “spheres” that Miranda Chase uses to analyze a crash site, the story begins with a broad focus on a narrow event. There’s a downed plane. Miranda’s team then pokes into, under and around every facet of the crash site and the downed plane. Despite temptation, they do not reach conclusions. They just gather evidence – often right before it blows up in their faces or over their heads. That painstakingly gathered evidence leads, slowly but inexorably, towards the reason why the plane crashed.

That’s it’s never the obvious is what makes Miranda’s investigation so compelling to follow. That someone is out there trying to prevent her from discovering that non-obvious solution is what adds the accelerant to the incendiary device of this story, and puts readers right in the middle of the action watching for the explosion – or its prevention.

I’ll admit that I can’t wait to see what catastrophe Miranda Chase draws as her next assignment, but I’m looking forward to finding out next year in Condor.

“I received a free copy of this title from the publisher for an honest review.” And I honestly loved this story!