McCall Smith’s great gift is making you shelve your genre-honed expectations and accept his people and stories as they are.

THE TALENTED MR. VARG

A second course of Nordic blanc for Ulf Varg and his colleagues in Malmö’s Department of Sensitive Crimes.

Now that uniformed officer Blomquist has been seconded to the DSC, Varg’s regulars—Anna Bengsdotter, whom Ulf secretly pines for; Carl Holgersson; and Erik, the clerk who fishes whenever he’s not maintaining the files—all appreciate his uncanny talent for intuiting the answers to the riddles that cross their desks. This time, Ulf will have his help in shadowing Anna’s husband, anesthetist Jo Asplund, whom she suspects of cheating on her (if only he were, thinks Ulf mournfully). It’s Ulf’s neighbor and dogsitter, Agnes Högfors, who has the honor of figuring out who’s blackmailing Nils Persson-Cederström, the Swedish Hemingway, whose partner Ulf has met in group therapy. Ulf thinks he’s the one who’ll have to decide what to do about a stolen Saab grille he’s been presented with by grateful Roma thief Viligot Danior, who thinks he owes Ulf for giving evidence against the Lutheran minister who punched Danior in the nose because he caught Danior’s son stealing his tires. But here again he’s given a miraculous bit of assistance that lets him off the hook. Fans of Ulf’s debut in The Department of Sensitive Crimes (2019) or the author’s other gently reflective franchises won’t be surprised or disappointed to learn that most of the crimes here aren’t really crimes, and Ulf’s crime-solving talents are highly questionable.

McCall Smith’s great gift is making you shelve your genre-honed expectations and accept his people and stories as they are.

Pub Date: April 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4896-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

THE LIONESS

An actress and her entourage are kidnapped by Russians in Bohjalian’s uneven thriller.

In 1964, Hollywood’s gossip rags are agog as movie star Katie Barstow marries gallerist David Hill and takes her inner circle along on her honeymoon. And an adventuresome honeymoon it is—on safari in the Serengeti with aging big-game hunter Charlie Patton, who once helped Hemingway bag trophies. But Katie is not the star of this ensemble piece. The populous cast—a who’s who at the beginning is indispensable—includes Katie’s publicist, Reggie Stout; her agent, Peter Merrick; her best friend, Carmen Tedesco, a supporting actress who plays wisecracking sidekicks; and Terrance Dutton, Katie's recent co-star, a Black actor who's challenging Sidney Poitier's singularity in Hollywood. With obvious nods to Hemingway’s worst fear—masculine cowardice—Bohjalian adds in Felix Demeter, Carmen’s husband, a B-list screenwriter who reminds his wife of Hemingway’s weakling Francis Macomber. Felix seems a superfluous double of David, who feels inadequate because Katie is the breadwinner and his father is CIA. Then there’s Katie’s older brother, Billy Stepanov, whose abuse at the hands of their mother shaped the psychologist he is today; Billy’s pregnant wife, Margie; and Benjamin Kikwete, an apprentice safari guide. Thus, a proliferation of voices whose competing perspectives fragment rather than advance the story. The kidnapping plot seems less designed to test each character’s mettle than to exercise Bohjalian’s predilection for minute descriptions of gore. The most heartfelt portrayal here is of the Serengeti and its flora and fauna, but none of the human characters net enough face time to transcend their typecasting. The motives behind the kidnapping might have lent intrigue to the proceedings, but foreshadowing is so slight that the infodump explainer at the end leaves us shocked, mostly at how haphazard the plot is.

Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54482-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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Generations may succeed generations, but Sandford’s patented investigation/action formula hasn’t aged a whit. Bring it on.

THE INVESTIGATOR

A domestic-terrorist plot gives the adopted daughter of storied U.S. Marshal Lucas Davenport her moment to shine.

Veteran oilman Vermilion Wright knows that losing a few thousand gallons of crude is no more than an accounting error to his company but could mean serious money to whomever’s found a way to siphon it off from wells in Texas’ Permian Basin. So he asks Sen. Christopher Colles, Chair of Homeland Security and Government Affairs, to look into it, and Colles persuades 24-year-old Letty Davenport, who’s just quit his employ, to return and partner with Department of Homeland Security agent John Kaiser to track down the thieves. The plot that right-winger Jane Jael Hawkes and her confederates, most of them service veterans with disgruntled attitudes and excellent military skills, have hatched is more dire than anything Wright could have imagined. They plan to use the proceeds from the oil thefts to purchase some black-market C4 essential to a major act of terrorism that will simultaneously express their alarm about the country’s hospitality to illegal immigrants and put the Jael-Birds on the map for good. But they haven’t reckoned with Letty, another kid born on the wrong side of the tracks who can outshoot the men she’s paired with and outthink the vigilantes she finds herself facing—and who, along with her adoptive father, makes a memorable pair of “pragmatists. Really harsh pragmatists” willing to do whatever needs doing without batting an eye or losing a night’s sleep afterward.

Generations may succeed generations, but Sandford’s patented investigation/action formula hasn’t aged a whit. Bring it on.

Pub Date: April 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-32868-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2022

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