Gilbert Cruz
January 13, 2006 AT 05:00 AM EST

The latest in thrillers

THE HOSTAGE
W.E.B. Griffin (Putnam, $26.95)
In the second book in Griffin’s series, Delta Force major Charley Castillo is sent to Argentina on a semi-covert mission to investigate the kidnapping of a diplomat’s wife. Edge-of-Seat Quotient Moderate. Axis of Evil Connection A subplot involves a U.N./Iraq oil-for-food scandal. Bottom Line Fans will love the Tom Clancy-type military lingo. Others will feel bogged down by long stretches of actionless exposition. B

BLINDFOLD GAME
Dana Stabenow (St. Martin’s Minotaur, $23.95)
While a CIA analyst tries to track down a dirty-bomb-loaded freighter, he discovers that the only thing that can stop it is his wife’s Coast Guard cutter. Edge-of-Seat Quotient High. Axis of Evil Connection The culprits: North Korean terrorists who trained with al-Qaeda. Bottom Line A tepid love story, underdeveloped heroes, and almost-nonexistent villains weaken the high-concept plot. C

SUNSTROKE
Jesse Kellerman (Putnam, $24.95)
A California secretary verging on old-maidhood discovers that her missing boss — whom she secretly pines for — is hiding some dark secrets down Mexico way. Edge-of-Seat Quotient Low. Axis of Evil Connection Nope. Bottom Line Kellerman’s playwriting background shines through in this wonderful portrait of a woman who experiences intimacies solely in her mind. It’s a slow-burning, sunbaked noir treat. A-

PLAGUEMAKER
Tim Downs (WestBow, $19.99)
An old Japanese man wants to use NYC’s July 4 fireworks display to release plague-infected fleas. An estranged law-enforcement couple and an old Chinese man try to stop him. Edge-of-Seat Quotient Fairly high. Axis of Evil Connection The Japanese guy is in league with some Syrian terrorists. Bottom Line What at first seems a completely absurd premise is quickly saved by an entertaining trio of heroes. B+

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