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Review: Meg Gardiner's 'Phantom Instinct' is 1 of the summer's must-read thrillers

This book cover image released by Dutton shows

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This book cover image released by Dutton shows "Phantom Instinct," by Meg Gardiner. (AP Photo/Dutton)

"Phantom Instinct" (Dutton), by Meg Gardiner

Meg Gardiner's latest thriller, "Phantom Instinct," begins with a shootout at the club where Harper Flynn works. Harper's boyfriend is killed, a police officer is severely wounded, the bar burns to the ground and leaves no evidence of how the gunmen entered the highly secure building.

The official report claims the two gunmen who attacked the bar were killed in the fire. But both Harper and the injured cop swear there's a third killer, and they work together to prove his existence. And we're off! "Phantom Instinct" is simply a fantastic story, told at breakneck speed. Gardiner is one of the best thriller writers around, and this is arguably her best work yet.

"Phantom Instinct" is full of action and surprises and a few new twists and quirks. For example, the cop, Aiden, has Fregoli syndrome as a result of his injuries. It's a brain disorder that causes the sufferer to believe that different people are actually the same person in disguise. You can imagine how this might affect his police work. Harper herself has a complicated past, and it appears to not be a coincidence that she was working on the night of the attack. But to say more would ruin the first of many reveals.

There's a scene about midway through in which Harper teaches her late boyfriend's sister how to do a handbrake turn. It's ostensibly a character-building scene, one that allows both characters to blow off steam and have some fun, and it's written with such exuberance that it's easy to forget the menace underneath that threatens both women, and moreover to not think about how this scene is going to fit in with the rest of the narrative. By the end of the chapter, the menace is back, and the scene assuredly serves a clear purpose. This scene, however, is just one of the many reasons Gardiner's latest stand-alone is one of this summer's best reads.



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