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New York Times Book Review—TWENTY YEARS LATER

By Sarah Lyall

Dec. 5, 2021

Heart-Stopping, Edge-of-Your-Seat Tales

The most haunting artifacts of 9/11 may be the voice mail messages — of panic, fear, resignation and love — left by the people facing imminent death in the World Trade Center. The excellent notion behind Charlie Donlea’s TWENTY YEARS LATER (Kensington, 357 pp., $27) is this: Imagine that one of those messages was left by the main suspect in a notorious murder, who protested her innocence and pleaded for her name to be cleared.

After a brief flashback, the book jumps to 2021, when a tiny bone fragment from the Trade Center rubble is matched with the DNA of Victoria Ford, who spent the morning of 9/11 in the south tower meeting her lawyer. (This is not a far-fetched scenario; the remains of more than 1,000 victims — about 40 percent of the total — have never been recovered, and efforts are still underway to match bone fragments to people who were killed.)

Victoria was about to be charged with murdering her married lover by strangling him and pushing him over a balcony while making it seem that he had hanged himself. The case was rendered moot by Sept. 11; for two decades, nobody has been much interested in Victoria’s sister’s efforts to clear her name.

But the identification of Victoria’s remains changes everything. The story catches the attention of Avery Mason, the ambitious, duplicitous host of a TV newsmagazine show, who recently raised her public profile by deliberately driving into a swimming pool and demonstrating how to escape from a car submerged in water. (Her pro tip: Kick the lower right-hand corner of the driver’s seat window, very hard.) It also pulls the former F.B.I. agent Walt Jenkins, who worked the original case back in 2001, out of his boozy, personal-demon-plagued retirement in Jamaica.

What happened all those years ago, and why was the murder scene teeming with Victoria’s DNA? Why does Donlea, a veteran best-selling author, devote so much space to Avery’s difficult contract-renewal negotiations with the bosses at her Fox-like network? How relevant is her back story, which features a Bernie Madoff-style scandal and a brother drowned in a freak boating accident? Is there a reason Donlea keeps repeating that New York City is unusually empty over July 4 weekend?

The ingredients — adultery, fake identities, ulterior motives, forgery, plagiarism, rough sex, unusual chapter breaks, a little murder thrown in here and there — are enticing, and Donlea tells a propulsive tale. The novel’s problem is mostly a simple branding error, in that Victoria’s case is just one of many mysteries at play. We’ll figure out in the end what is worth paying most attention to, but not before we negotiate our way through a maze of misdirection, sudden revelations and, yes, contract negotiations.


Twenty Years Later: A Riveting New Thriller

NY Times “Best Books to Give this Holiday Season”

E! News “10 Books to Cozy Up with in December”

Overdrive “Biggest Books of December”

In the gripping, fast-paced new thriller from USA Today, IndieBound, and #1 internationally bestselling author Charlie Donlea, a TV news host sets out to uncover the truth behind a gruesome tale of sex, betrayal, and murder twenty years after the investigation was abandoned in the wake of 9/11.

Fans of Lisa Unger and Allen Eskens won’t want to miss this thrilling new suspense novel from the #1 internationally bestselling author of The Girl Who Was Taken

Avery Mason, host of American Events, knows the subjects that grab a TV audience’s attention. Her latest story—a murder mystery laced with kinky sex, tragedy, and betrayal—is guaranteed to be ratings gold. New DNA technology has allowed the New York medical examiner’s office to make its first successful identification of a 9/11 victim in years. The twist: the victim, Victoria Ford, had been accused of the gruesome murder of her married lover. In a chilling last phone call to her sister, Victoria begged her to prove her innocence.

Emma Kind has waited twenty years to put her sister to rest, but closure won’t be complete until she can clear Victoria’s name. Alone she’s had no luck, but she’s convinced that Avery’s connections and fame will help. Avery, hoping to negotiate a more lucrative network contract, goes into investigative overdrive. Victoria had been having an affair with a successful novelist, found hanging from the balcony of his Catskills mansion. The rope, the bedroom, and the entire crime scene was covered in Victoria’s DNA.

But the twisted puzzle of Victoria’s private life is just the beginning. And what Avery doesn't realize is that there are other players in the game who are interested in Avery’s own secret past—one she has kept hidden from both the network executives and her television audience. A secret she thought was dead and buried . . .

Accused of a brutal murder, Victoria Ford made a final chilling call from theNorth Tower on the morning of 9/11.

Twenty years ago, no one listened.

Today, everyone will.

“Breathtaking pacing and clever plot twists.” – Publishers Weekly
“An entertaining thriller…surprises lurking around every corner.” – Kirkus Reviews
“A great plot that incorporates family, lifelong friendship, betrayal, and the specter of 9/11…with several sub-plots that keep you guessing about how it will all come together. The ending is very unexpected on several fronts. Any good crime and mystery fan will enjoy this book.” – J. Willey (Fiction Addiction) for The Southern Booksellers Review

“[Plot lines] merge seamlessly into a surprise ending that I didn’t see coming. Author Charlie Donlea has an easy readable style and skillfully adds depth and intrigue to this enjoyable thriller.” – Mystery Scene


About Charlie Donlea

Charlie Donlea is the USA Today and #1 International bestselling author of six thrillers.

TWENTY YEARS LATER will be released 12.28.21 –– Pre-order now.

His books have been translated into nearly twenty languages across forty countries. He resides in Chicago with his wife and two children.

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