BIRTHRIGHT

Once again, Coburn (Voices in the Dark, 1994, etc.) uses crime as the point of departure for an examination of his troubled characters. This time, though, the crime is the crime of the century, and the canvas is uncommonly broad and rich. It all begins as a typical story of two kids from the Bronx, Rudy Farber and Joseph Shellenbach, competing for the favors of one Gretchen Krause (who says openly that she loves them both) and waiting for the big break that'll lift them out of their dead-end lives. Rolling-stone carpenter Rudy's idea of a big break is the ransom he's sure his latest client, Charles Lindbergh, will pay for the return of his son. But shortly after Rudy hatches his kidnapping plan—which will involve both Shell and Rudy's dim, honorable co-worker Bruno Richard Hauptmann as accomplices—Shell's own baby, David, dies, a casualty of his disturbed wife Helen. Aching to make Helen whole again, Shell carries out his part of the plan but adds a wrinkle by switching the children, leaving David to be found by the authorities who'll hunt down Hauptmann, and raising Charles Lindbergh Jr. as his own. The changeling can't halt Helen's slide toward twilit apathy, but he becomes the mainstay of his proud, agonized father's life. Coburn echoes Doctorow's Ragtime not only in his compounding of fiction, myth, and history, but in the syncopated, insistently metaphorical rhythms of his prose, which winnows years and decades down to mordant images as young David and his friends, echoing the fortunes of their forebears, find their bodies swelling and thrusting under their clothes, phone girlfriends or prostitutes once a week, then mark their advancing years by looking everywhere for handrails. Since nothing ever changes in Coburn's sad, dizzying view of history, it's only a matter of time—under Ronald Reagan, centrist Republican David is running for Massachusetts governor—when Shell confronts his son with the truth about his parentage. A revelation almost unbearably tender and haunting.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-684-81529-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1997

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Joe’s fifth case is his best balanced, most deeply felt and most mystifying to date: an absolute must.

OUT OF RANGE

Crime-fighting Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett outdoes himself during a temporary transfer from sleepy Saddlestring to fashionable Jackson Hole.

Will Jensen, the Jackson game warden, was a great guy and a model warden, but once his wife left him six months ago, he spiraled into madness and suicide, and now Joe’s been called to replace him. The transition is anything but smooth. There’s no question of Joe’s family coming with him, so he’s reduced to hoping he can get a signal for the cell-phone calls he squeezes into his busy schedule. En route to his new posting, Joe has to pursue a marauding grizzly. He arrives to meet a formidable series of challenges. Cantankerous outfitter Smoke Van Horn wants to go on attracting elk with illegal salt licks without the new warden’s interference. Animal Liberation Network activist Pi Stevenson wants him to publicize her cause and adopt a vegan diet. Developer Don Ennis wants to open a housing development for millionaires who like their meat free of additives. Ennis’s trophy wife Stella simply wants Joe—and he wants her back. As he wrestles with these demands, and with a supervisor riled over Joe’s track record of destroying government property in pursuit of bad guys (Trophy Hunt, 2004, etc.), Joe slowly becomes convinced that Will did not kill himself.

Joe’s fifth case is his best balanced, most deeply felt and most mystifying to date: an absolute must.

Pub Date: May 5, 2005

ISBN: 0-399-15291-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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