Three minutes to Doomsday, by Joe Navarro***

threeminutestodoomsday“Nothing’s ever over till the fat lady sings.”

Trite? Yes. Abrasive? Absolutely!  Sexist? All the damn time. Profane? Seriously profane, and not in a way that some of us might find amusing. And yet, this memoir has a strangely fascinating aspect as well.  It combines two stories, the primary one an espionage case in which the author plays the primary role, and a secondary one, the implosion of the author’s personality and marriage. It’s not fun reading, but after a certain point, there’s no turning away from it either. Thanks go to Net Galley and Scribner for the DRC, which I received free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

Navarro is a hot-shot young FBI agent in 1988, and it is while conducting what is expected to be a fairly routine interview that he notes a “tell” from former US soldier Rod Ramsey. It becomes the basis of an espionage case that goes much deeper than anyone anticipated. Navarro uses his expertise in nonverbal communication to tell what Ramsey is feeling during the various phases of his interviews, and he also uses it to control and manipulate Ramsey into cooperating with the investigation. Ramsey is the one soul on this planet with fewer friends than Navarro, and so Navarro spends years making Ramsey believe that he himself is that friend, practically family. He does it so he can have this kid busted and send him away for a really long time.

Navarro knows a lot about reading and controlling others nonverbally, but he doesn’t know a thing about building a family life or about how to make friends, and it’s clear he knows this, yet he can’t help himself. He tells us that an agent he wants to assist him tells a supervisor that she would prefer to work with someone else, and specifically, with anyone, anyone, anyone else but him. A number of other people echo this, and yet his personality continues on its hell-bent-for-leather downhill trajectory.

While he continues his self-aggrandizement with a hearty side-serving of brazen braggadocio, Navarro recounts again and again how much he hates the office staff at work, little people that are getting in his way by attempting to do their jobs. Clearly they just don’t understand how very important he is, but that’s okay, because he is letting the world know now.  Regarding the office manager that dares remind him of small requirements like changing the oil in his official vehicle, he uses a tired aphorism:

“Don’t try to teach a pig to sing. It annoys the pig and it wastes your time.”

He lets us know that he swore at, patronized, and berated her constantly, and lest we take his admissions as a sign of penitence, he also lets us know that he hates her still. He has changed her name for obvious legal reasons, but he hasn’t changed his obnoxious attitude or gained a speck of humility.

Add to this the fact that, though this case is terrific book material, the guy isn’t much of a writer. Clichés abound, and very basic principles of narrative writing are either never learned or disregarded. He starts chapters with lists, apparently too busy and important to transform these into paragraphs. I’m not all that sure he ever edited his work (because he might have noticed his overuse of parenthesis) and I’m not sure he permitted anyone else to do so either (because surely they would have come to his rescue).

Still, it’s an interesting story. Whereas someone else could no doubt do a finer job of writing this thing, it’s undeniably compelling. I recommend this memoir to those that enjoy espionage thrillers and true crime stories, but don’t give up the full sticker price. Read it for free or cheap, and save your serious dollars for serious writers.

The Prisoner, by Alex Berenson****

theprisoner Berenson has written a whole series of espionage thrillers featuring John Wells, a CIA operative fighting al Qaeda. I was unaware of this when I requested a DRC from Net Galley and Putnam Penguin, but I find it stands up quite nicely as a stand-alone novel. Would I have enjoyed it even more if I’d read the others first? We will never know.  However, if you’d like to read this tightly woven thriller either in sequence or singly, it will be available January 31, 2017.

To enjoy an espionage thriller, one has to buy the premise, namely that the CIA is a heroic organization, or at least has a segment of good guys that are fighting terrorism to keep innocent civilians safe. This is a premise I buy cheerfully for the sake of a good yarn; I do it when I read crime fiction in which the cops are morally righteous, or at least more good than bad, so why not here. In exchange, I got to enjoy an intense, interesting thriller that is different from a lot of the other fiction I read, and novelty is a meaningful selling point when one spends several hours daily with one’s nose in a book.

This is a literate read. In a world of dumbed-down fiction that plays to the lowest common denominator, I have come to value writers that have a strong vocabulary and aren’t afraid to use it. I also learned some things about the Middle East and how the USA operates there, including a few new specialized terms and some information about the cultures featured in that part of the world. Of course, this is fiction and it could also be true that Berenson made it all up, but his past includes work as a war correspondent in Iraq, and so perhaps this is what gives the setting its authenticity.

Our premise is that there is a mole at a high level inside of the CIA. John Wells has been feeling the itch to travel, impatient with his wife’s demand for more family time and suffocated by the dull sameness of everyday life in the States. He volunteers to return to the Mid-East and pose as an al Qaeda recruit so that he can be tossed into a Bulgarian prison and cozy up to the high-up operative that is interned there.

I blanched slightly at this; I have read a couple of former CIA employees’ memoirs, and I had to swallow hard to pretend that this guy would actually do this thing. But when we read thrillers, whether it’s crime, mystery, or a spy story, we don’t really want to read about tedium and paper pushing; we want excitement. Once I bought the premise, I was wedded to the narrative.

The other key characters here are Shafer, the CIA officer Wells reports to and who is also hunting for the mole; and the mole, whose name I can’t tell you without ruining the book.At first I thought I was seeing shallow characterization, but Wells’ character is developed in a way that is so subtle that the reader may not realize it’s occurred. Gradually we come to know who Wells is, how he thinks, how he will respond. On the other hand, our mole is a loser and remains a caricature throughout.

Every significant character here is male, but from what little I know, that’s consistent with the CIA, especially among the highest officers, a glass ceiling that’s hard to crack, so Berenson is merely reflecting US intelligence as it actually is.

The plot’s arc is a little different than one might usually expect.  The hook at the start is arresting, and I expected it to perhaps ratchet up, up, up from there. Instead, the pace flagged once we were about 15 percent of the way in, and then gradually began to ascend again. By the time I was 70 percent of the way in, I understood that the next time I picked it up, I would have to finish it.

When we hit the climax, set in France, I threw off the quilt and sat up. The pulse-pounding denouement was inconsistent with lying supine and I read the last 15 percent of the book sitting up and leaning forward.

This story is guaranteed to spike your adrenaline and chase away the winter blahs. Recommended to those that enjoy espionage thrillers.

Fidelity, by Jan Fedarcyk***-****

fidelityRetired FBI agent Jan Fedarcyk makes her debut with this intense spy novel, and it is bound to keep the reader guessing and turning pages deep into the night. Thanks go to Simon and Schuster and Net Galley for the DRC, which I received for review purposes. I rate this story with 3.5 stars and round it upward.

The selling point for the new reader of what is destined to become the Kay Malloy series, is that the author has spent 25 years in the FBI and knows what she’s talking about. Though she reminds the reader that a lot of the FBI agent’s job is done at a desk sifting through endless forms to fill out and reports to write and not much of what we see on TV, we also know that she can spot an implausible situation a mile away and not go there or do that.

So the initial question that came to me was whether someone that’s worked for the Feds for a quarter century still has enough imagination left to write interesting fiction, and now I can tell you straight up that Fedarcyk does, and she can, and she did. I like the level of complexity, which is literate without being impossible to follow. The reader will want to give her story full attention; nobody can watch television and read this book during the ads. It’s well paced and the suspense is built in a masterful manner.

Characterization comes up a little short, and I can imagine that this will be her key focus in writing future books in the series. Kay is so darn perfect, and I never feel I know her deeply, despite the discussion of her past and how she is motivated by it. We see her tempted to use her position for a very small, somewhat justifiable personal reason briefly, but she is nonetheless something of a cardboard hero all the way through. Likewise, the Russian spies are big, blocky bad guys, thugs that drink Vodka. The spy novel tradition has been honored, but I would like to see more layers to these characters as we move forward. The ending, while it surprises me to some extent, is not one that the reader had a reasonable chance of guessing, but to some extent that’s true of a lot of espionage thrillers.  What might be really cool would be to see an espionage version of Kay’s own Moriarty come into play.

As is always the case for me when I read espionage thrillers, police procedurals, and other novels that involve heroic cops, I have to construct a mental barricade between what I see in real life and what I am willing to believe when I read fiction. One of Fedarcyk’s characters snorts in derision about the time when people were willing to die for Marxism, and I have news: some of us still would. But for a fun ride, I am delighted to suspend reality and buy the premise until the book is done.

One area where I struggled—and to be honest, I don’t know whether anyone else will or not—was with two characters, first Luis, whose last name isn’t used very much, and then Torres, whose first name doesn’t get used much either. This reviewer has taught more than one student named Luis Torres, so this may factor into my confusion about 75% of the way through the story when I realize that these have to be two separate people, but for awhile I am convinced that Uncle Luis Torres has mentored her into the field, and so when the story arc is near its peak, I have to go back and reread some of the novel to be certain I knew who is who. Luis is the uncle; Torres is the agent and mentor; they’re two separate guys.

All told, this is a promising start to what is sure to be an engaging series. The world needs to see more strong women in fiction, and so I welcome Kay Malloy and look forward to seeing future installments. A fine debut, and it’s for sale now.

The Sleeper, by Robert Janes***

thesleeperThe Sleeper is an espionage thriller set just before Britain enters World War II. David Ashby is living in Germany with his family, but international tensions become so compelling that a British citizen is unable to live there safely anymore. Splitting from his German wife, he grabs their seven year old daughter and goes back to the UK with her. The German government is determined to retrieve the child, and the struggle over little Karen is the basis of the story. Thank you to Net Galley and Open Road Integrated Media for the DRC, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

This one is tough to review, because it has so much going for it, and yet other aspects hold it back. Foremost among the latter is the premise; would Hitler really send this much firepower after one kid locked in a domestic dispute? Youth were a big part of his recruitment campaign, yet it’s hard to conceive of all this time, money, and attention being lavished on the retrieval of one solitary child—and at that, a girl, who by Nazi definition is bound for motherhood, church, and her kitchen. But once we just leap in and let ourselves believe either that this could be true, or that there may be a secondary reason as yet to be revealed to us for Hitler’s diligence, it’s an enjoyable read.

Janes is painstaking in his attention to historical detail. The culture, the more formal reference to others, with the salutation of Miss, Mrs., or Mr. (or their equivalents in other languages) rather than the common use of first names used in Western nations today resonates, along with technology and a host of other historical minutiae. His attention to all aspects of setting is equally outstanding. He weaves a complex, hyper-literate plot that at times is compelling, but the story would be better served if he were to streamline it a little, because there are a lot of side details that lend nothing to the story. For example, whether Ashby has a gay relationship has no bearing on the main story or its outcome. In fact, there is way too much of who is sleeping with whom; I can see why his ex-wife would be motivated partially by jealousy, but the reader is treated to the romantic or sexual inclinations of just about every woman in the village, and it’s distracting rather than useful, and it gets in the way of stronger character development. I also found many of the transitions ragged, sometimes startling, but this may very well only be true of the galley; sometimes the DRC doesn’t include little dividing marks that will be in the final copy to cue the reader of a change of scene; thus I didn’t include this issue in my rating.

About halfway through , the style of writing changes, becomes less fluent and takes on some odd quirks that made me flip to the author page to see whether the writer was perhaps not a native English speaker and the book translated from another tongue. However, since he credits two others with helping him with the brief bits of dialogue in German and French, that doesn’t seem likely. There is one particularly distracting feature of the grammar that I tried to ignore, but after awhile found myself highlighting its frequency to see whether it was really occurring as often as I believed. The specifics of this I will send to the publisher, in the hope that perhaps it can be mitigated by the time it comes out. With this distraction removed, the book would be 3.5 stars, maybe even 4.

The climactic scene in the mine tunnels is absolutely riveting, and the stilted language and grammatical quirks that occur roughly from the 50% to 80% portions are nowhere to be found during this critical part of the book. It is largely Janes’s outstanding word-smithery with regard to setting that makes the climax so palpable and taut.

Should you invest in this novel? I guess that depends on your fondness for WWII fiction, and how deep your pockets are. There are other novels in the same vein that I recommend more highly, but it’s such a large field, and you could certainly do worse.

This title becomes available for purchase December 15, 2015.

Mrs. John Doe, by Tom Savage *****

mrsjohndoeTom Savage is master of the high octane, full-speed-ahead espionage thriller. Last year he gave us Penny for the Hangman, which kept me up late at night, and this year if anything he has improved upon it with Mrs. John Doe. Thank you to Net Galley and Random House-Alibi for the DRC. Now that’s I’ve finished it, I can breathe again!

Nora Baron is a widow. Her husband Jeff has been killed in the line of duty as a CIA operative in Britain. She goes to claim his corpse, get him cremated and take him home…and then all hell breaks loose, because nothing, nothing, nothing is as it seems.

Savage’s thriller style is both fast-paced and psychological. We never know who Nora can trust, and so we are constantly on edge. Sometimes it irritates me when a writer messes with my head, but the way Savage does it just makes me want to sit up and howl for more. From one friend-who-can-help (or is it a foe-who-will-turn-on-her?) to another, we are constantly cheering for Nora, advising her (good gravy, NO, don’t get in that car!), and every time we feel we have a pretty good grip on what ‘s going on and what’s going to happen next, it turns out we couldn’t be more mistaken. Savage accomplishes all this without resorting to trickily withheld information or any of the other shabby cheats and foils that lesser authors deliver. The story arc that would, in another thriller, start to pick up past the halfway mark and really accelerate at 85%, instead picks up almost from the get-go and keeps us furiously turning the pages until after the climax, when we finally wind down just enough to know what happens to our protagonist after the ride is over.

Those that read my reviews know that I can’t so much as tie my own shoelaces without looking for political content, so I also want to mention that the anti-Pakistani slurs and assumptions that all characters from the Middle East are terrorists get taken care of tidily.

Ultimately, having the woman depicted in such a positive, capable fashion is a touch that boomer-feminists like me, as well as the younger, newer wave of feminists, will appreciate. And while once in awhile something implausible slides into the text, we have to buy the premise anyway, because Savage isn’t going to pause long enough to talk about it, and we have to know what happens next. So as usual, an excellent writer can make us believe almost anything, whereas an indifferent one can’t make us bond with the everyday and the ordinary.

When this thriller comes out October 6, get a copy and hold on tight. It’s going to be one frenzied, wild ride!

Hard Rain, by Peter Abrahams ****

hardrainHard Rain is a nail-biter of a suspense novel, part mystery and part espionage thriller, and Peter Abrahams is a writer with credentials as long as your arm, including being Stephen King’s favorite American suspense novelist. After reading this skillfully woven tale I can see why. My thanks go to Net Galley and Open Road Integrated Media for the free galley. It was one wild ride!

Hard Rain is set in the period after Vietnam, but prior to the time when satellites revolutionized our means of communication. Our opening scenes involve a mysterious, sinister fellow named Bao Dai. His murder of a stranger for no apparent reason sets the reader on edge, and the surreal tone the writer lends is better than anything I have ever seen. In fact, the writing style and pacing are so brilliant that until I stumbled across some unexpected but fairly glaring problems in the last quarter of the book, it was headed for a five star review and a home on my favorites list. But more about that later.

Our chief problem, once the initial set up flashes past us, is that Jessie’s daughter is missing. Her ex-husband, Pat Rodney, took her for the weekend. They were going to go fishing, and then she was going to be returned to Jessie in time for a birthday party. But they never made it to the fishing boat, and there are some ominous messages on Pat’s answering machine. Kate never came home, and Jessie has no clue where she is.The cops aren’t all that concerned, seeing it as a routine custody violation that will surely be resolved on its own, but Pat has never been responsible, and has never ever wanted full custody; Jessie just doesn’t think he would snatch her. Her best friend, Barbara, is a no-holds-barred lawyer, and she’s ready to get down to business, but she is killed by a hit and run driver as she goes to cross Jessie’s street, wearing Jessie’s yellow rain slicker. That one person was the entire cavalry; now Jessie is on her own.

It just doesn’t look good.

The trail takes Jessie to Bennington College in Vermont. Pat was originally from Vermont, and she thinks he may have gone home, or at least contacted his family. And once there, all hell breaks loose. A particularly harrowing scene involves a chase scene in a subterranean tunnel beneath the dormitories.

A parallel storyline that blinks in and out has to do with an aging spy named Zyzmchuk, who is about to be sent out to pasture. Keith and Dahlin, a snappy, younger pair of more business-like spooks, plan one further adventure for “Zyz” in the hope that when it’s over, he’ll either be dead or leave quietly. These two, for some reason, made me think of Haldeman and Ehrlichman, the two sinister advisers that did President Nixon’s bidding at times, and at other times kept him on a leash to keep him from acting crazier than he already was. Maybe it’s because I am also reading Tim Weiner’s galley about the Nixon presidency. I have to say that of all the myriad characters that wink in and out of this complex, deliberately disorienting story, Keith and Dahlin are my favorites.

The imagery, with water and falling being constant themes throughout this spooky story, is among the best I have read, together with a deceptively simple sentence pattern that creates suspense in something of a house-that-Jack-built fashion. I still can’t figure out how he does it. It’s uncanny, and really absorbing.

So, even with the problems toward the end, is this creepy novel worth your time and money? Assuming you enjoy this sort of story, I have to say yes, it is. In fact, this writer won the Edgar earlier in his career, and that early title is now on my to-read list. I probably won’t find it as a galley, which means I have to hunt it down at the library, or fish around for it on my annual pilgrimage to Powell’s City of Books. So what follows was not enough to cross this writer off my A list, by any means. And now if you read further, there are going to be spoilers, so if you want to read this yourself and not know how the ending shakes out—or at least bits of it—this is the place to quit reading. And for those skimming, I will make it more obvious:


We are 75% of the way into the story. Jessie has been beaten by bad guys, and has been rescued, medical attention sought by our very own spook, Zyzmchuk. He is keeping an eye on her partly for her own good (awww), but also so that she doesn’t get in his way, because her mission interferes with part of his. He sets a guard to watch her when he has to go out, but otherwise, he sits in a chair in her hotel room there in New England, keeping watch over her. She is a sweet young thing still; he is retirement age.

And so there she is, with a nasty concussion and a number of other bad injuries, worried about her missing child, and so what would be more natural than inviting this duffer, a man as ancient as I am now, to come climb in bed with her so they can have great sex?

What the hell?

“’Shit,’ said Dahlin.
“’Fuck’, said Keith.’”

Okay, that quote belongs much earlier in the book (and more than once), but I like it here just as well, so I have taken the liberty of inserting it. Because really…what is that about? Did someone in marketing decide the book needed some gratuitous sex in order to sell properly? Go figure.

At the 85% we have to wonder whether some bad editor also cut out a chunk of story that should have been more judiciously and lightly pruned, because when Jessie sneaks out of her hotel room to try to find her daughter, she returns to find that Zyz, the guard Zyz posted while he stepped out, and all other apparent spooks and body guards have decamped. We, the readers, know that the guard in her hotel room was killed after she snuck out, but we don’t know where the hell Zyz went. And the next time we run across him, he is strolling into his office in Washington as if nothing untoward ever occurred. There is never any real explanation for this bizarre leap in the plot.

All that said, once again, I would happily read more of this author’s work. His capacity to create a frisson of chilly suspense far outweighs the Hollywood-like choice to dump the hot chick in bed with the old guy, as well as what may have been an editor’s error toward the conclusion.

This book will be released digitally July 28, and you can get a copy anytime you like now. What better way to spend a vacation, or even a staycation? Just stay out of the water, and definitely keep an eye on your kids. You won’t want them out of your sight while you read this story!

The Expats, by Chris Pavone *****

theexpatsChris Pavone spins one fine espionage thriller. I was introduced to his work when I read a galley of The Accident, the white-knuckle suspense story that follows this one. I was sufficiently impressed that I checked to see what else he had written. This first effort, which I borrowed from the Seattle Public Library, earned him the Edgar Award and a number of other kudos also. It’s a real page-turner.

Katherine is a mother of two young boys, and although her husband doesn’t know it, she works for the CIA; she has told him she is a government employee, and that she sits around all day writing position papers. She never inquires too closely into the life he led before he met her because she is afraid of the quid pro quo that must surely follow such questioning. The consequence is that she has been married for years to a man she doesn’t really know all that well. But he and the boys are really all she has; she has no other family to speak of.

She’s sitting on a mountain of unspoken experience. She has killed more people than she cares to remember. The reader is fed tiny shards of her memories in gradually increasing tidbits, and it is very effective in building toward the conclusion.

Her spouse Dexter, meanwhile, springs the surprise on her one evening: his work requires him to move from Washington D.C. to the tiny European secret-banking center Luxembourg. He works in I.T. in the banking industry as a security consultant, preventing hackers from thieving the bank’s massive resources. That’s what he tells her, anyway.

Relieved in a way, Katherine quits her job. The CIA doesn’t lift her cover, but they let her go little by little. Now she can finally focus on her sons, on her home, on her marriage…and so she sets up housekeeping in Luxembourg, enrolls the boys in school, enrolls herself in cooking classes during the day…and is bored out of her mind.

It was easy to buy the scenario as Pavone presents it, because it all figures. Who would join the CIA but a real adrenaline junkie? And what woman that has stalked other people, killed people, dodged those that stalked her or that sought retribution…what woman in such circumstances would not be bored out of her mind by cooking classes and shopping for area rugs and shower caddies?

It isn’t made easier by the fact that Dexter is always at work; that’s what he says, anyway. He is at work, on the road, in a meeting all the goddamn time. He spends an awful lot of time with Bill, another American expatriate, whose wife Julia seems a little too friendly to be true.

So is she merely acting like a CIA employee, governed by auto-suspicion? Or are these people setting off her spook-dar for a more substantial reason? And just what the hell is really up with Dexter? You would think the guy could show up for Thanksgiving dinner, for heaven’s sake!

If you have never read anything by Pavone, read this book first, and if you like it as much as I did, get The Accident second. Each is a stand-alone novel; they aren’t a series or sequential. But the second book is just a tiny bit better than this one, and I found myself slightly let down by an ending that seemed slightly too tidy. And in truth, I don’t think I’d have felt that way if I hadn’t already read something of his that is even better. In other words, judged against other thrillers written by other writers, this one is a sure-fire five star novel. Judged against Pavone’s subsequent work, the score shrinks a tiny bit.

The best part of all may have been the afterword. I always wondered about the research that went into writing spy thrillers. How the hell does anyone find out anything about the CIA, unless they are employed there and sworn not to tell? And Pavone tells us how he did it: he made it up. And that’s why it’s called fiction.

Guaranteed to absorb your attention for a long weekend and make all your own troubles look small.

Escape the Night, by Richard Patterson ****

EscapethenightEscape the night? Envision being trapped in a tunnel, inside of a tunnel, inside of a tunnel. Some are metaphoric or symbolic, but there’s a whole lot of darkness in this espionage thriller, a suspenseful tale that will play with your head more than once before the author is done. Thank you to Net Galley and Open Road Media for the ARC.

The setting at the outset is New York City during the McCarthy era. Black Jack Carey owns a publishing house that carries work by a left-leaning writer that is being watched by the CIA. Pressure from HUAC comes to scrap the writer’s work. Son Charles, eldest and best-loved son of Black Jack, refuses to yield to the pressure. Resentful younger son Philip, weaker in character and more easily swayed, takes the side of the government. He hopes his sensible nature will cause his father to will Van Dreelen and Carey to him rather than Charles.

At multiple places within this white-knuckle thriller, I had to put the book away because even with the assistance of sleeping pills, I knew I could not fall asleep if this story was in my hands. Were it not for that, I surely would have finished it sooner. This title along with a nonfiction galley have occupied my interest and attention far more than any of the other four books I’ve been reading.

Our villain, a well-drawn government spook named John Joseph Englehardt, becomes obsessed with the Carey family:

“Englehardt had learned that men who spied on other men, out of the loneliness of such a job, came to like or dislike their chosen quarry. But in his soul, he knew that the secret passion for the Careys grew from something stronger.

“The brothers’ rivalry was also his.”

Eventually Englehardt is officially ordered to abandon the Careys, but his psychosis is too thoroughly developed to let go. He turns to the CIA and is able to extend his surveillance. Phillip Carey’s cause has become his own. He despises Charles and is determined to do whatever dark thing is necessary for Phillip to inherit everything.

Generally speaking, I don’t read books about wealthy folk, and this is for a variety of reasons I won’t go into here. But the characters of John, Phillip, Englehardt, and later, Peter Carey, are so intimately sculpted that I had to buy the author’s premise. Once I did so, the pace picked up and the story was unstoppable.

The ending came with hairpin turns and swift kicks to the reader’s solar plexus, but everything that occurred seemed eminently believable, because the main characters and setting were so palpable.

My one small quibble with the writer–and it’s a common problem in literature not specifically geared toward women, but someone has to talk about it–is that the people who were well developed and occupied center stage were all men. Women existed here only as a foil for what was going to happen to someone else. For the novel to go beyond “really good” to “outstanding”, a novelist needs to be able to develop characters of both genders.

That shouldn’t keep you from buying this title, though. It’s one helluva ride. But don’t think you’re going to read it in small easy pieces. Once you pass a certain point, you have to keep going, and you may see the new day dawning and wonder where the night went.

Also, you’ll want to avoid tunnels for awhile.