As usual, it’s personal, very personal, for Burke throughout the brisk dialogue and fast-paced action of the sharply honed,...


Bad boy Burke (“born bad . . . born sad”) is back with a vengeance in the latest neo-noir from Vachss (Choice of Evil,1999, etc.).

But it looks as though the independent investigator with a “long criminal record and no known employment” is not long for this world. Burke takes shots to the head, rib cage, and eye when a half-million-dollar cash exchange for a Russian kid stolen ten years ago goes awry, leaving his long-time canine partner, Pansy, dead. It’s soon apparent that the whole rotten deal was a setup with Burke as the primary target. While finding Pansy’s killer is his initial reason for revenge, Burke also needs to know who wants him out of the way and why. He follows the trail from his morphine pump in a New York hospital to the blues bars of Chicago to the upscale neighborhoods of Portland, Oregon, with an additional excursion to the high mountains above Albuquerque, and a riveting final face-off ending in an inventive scam in Key West. In addition to his regulars—Max, Wolfe, Mole, and reliable hired assassin Wesley—Burke reunites with Byron, the endearing gay black pilot who shared Burke’s Biafran war experiences. And he picks up strong-minded Gem, a Cambodian refugee with a big heart and a bigger stomach (she wolfs down two omelets at a crack, and can clean her plate of a whole roasted chicken with sides of onion rings, roasted potatoes, and a slab of double-fudge cake). But it’s Burke’s childhood pal, Lune (for “lunatic”), in his New Mexico compound, who “sees the pattern in randomness” and guides him to the solution. In a typical Vachss scenario, Burke and Gem battle a nemesis from the past, only to find (what else?) supremacists and an island paradise for pedophiles.

As usual, it’s personal, very personal, for Burke throughout the brisk dialogue and fast-paced action of the sharply honed, knife-edged plot. Passion triumphs. Revenge rules.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-41121-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2000

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


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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No wonder Scarpetta asks, “When did my workplace become such a soap opera?” Answer: at least 10 years ago.


Happy birthday, Dr. Kay Scarpetta. But no Florida vacation for you and your husband, FBI profiler Benton Wesley—not because President Barack Obama is visiting Cambridge, but because a deranged sniper has come to town.

Shortly after everyone’s favorite forensic pathologist (Dust, 2013, etc.) receives a sinister email from a correspondent dubbed Copperhead, she goes outside to find seven pennies—all polished, all turned heads-up, all dated 1981—on her garden wall. Clearly there’s trouble afoot, though she’s not sure what form it will take until five minutes later, when a call from her old friend and former employee Pete Marino, now a detective with the Cambridge Police, summons her to the scene of a shooting. Jamal Nari was a high school music teacher who became a minor celebrity when his name was mistakenly placed on a terrorist watch list; he claimed government persecution, and he ended up having a beer with the president. Now he’s in the news for quite a different reason. Bizarrely, the first tweets announcing his death seem to have preceded it by 45 minutes. And Leo Gantz, a student at Nari’s school, has confessed to his murder, even though he couldn’t possibly have done it. But these complications are only the prelude to a banquet of homicide past and present, as Scarpetta and Marino realize when they link Nari’s murder to a series of killings in New Jersey. For a while, the peripheral presence of the president makes you wonder if this will be the case that finally takes the primary focus off the investigator’s private life. But most of the characters are members of Scarpetta’s entourage, the main conflicts involve infighting among the regulars, and the killer turns out to be a familiar nemesis Scarpetta thought she’d left for dead several installments back. As if.

No wonder Scarpetta asks, “When did my workplace become such a soap opera?” Answer: at least 10 years ago.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-232534-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 23, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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