THAT'S HOW I ROLL

Life is tough. It’s tougher when you’re on death row.

In his newest whodunit, Vachss (The Weight, 2010, etc.) combines his trademark black humor with his longstanding concern for children and their well-being. The result is a strikingly original character named Esau Till, born with a “spine thing” that has kept him from standing on his own for all the 40-plus years of his life. Esau has a genius IQ and a sharp sense of justice, if a vigilante one; no being bullied on the schoolyard or in life for him. Indeed, he has a skill that is very much in demand in the rough redneck quarters in which he moves—he makes a mean bomb. What keeps Esau motivated on this unforgiving planet is his younger brother Tory-boy, Lennie to his George, who is beyond simpleminded and is constantly in some mischief or another—dangerously involving the local neo-Nazi contingent at one point. Esau and Tory descend from a fellow known locally as the Beast, who made a sport of incest and murder until receiving his comeuppance, and they’re not what you might call model citizens. Even though Esau does a fine job of clearing the streets of criminals, if often on behalf of other criminals, he’s also worked his way through the catalog of civil offenses and felonies. For his trouble, we find Esau in the pen awaiting the final needle, telling his tale to pass the time. Vachss structures his novel as a sort of loose, episodic confessional that builds the story stone by stone, strewing the landscape with bodies (“Before he could open his mouth to ask a question, I shot him in the face”) and dispensing folksy wisdom (“If a man walks into a liquor store after dark, it’s either because he’s got money...or because he doesn’t”). The outlook is insistently bleak: Esau and Tory were born into suffering and will go out that way, too, sharing some of the wealth as they wander through the world. A smart, cynical glimpse into the human condition—and into lives no one should envy.  

 

Pub Date: March 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-37994-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

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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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POP GOES THE WEASEL

After a flight in fantasy with When the Wind Blows (1998), Patterson goes to ground with another slash-and-squirm psychokiller page-turner, this one dedicated to “the millions of Alex Cross readers, who so frequently ask, can’t you write faster?” By day, Geoffrey Shafer is a charming, 42-year-old British Embassy paper-pusher with a picture-perfect family and a shady past as an MI-6 secret agent. Come sundown, he swallows a pharmacy of psychoactive pills, gulps three black coffees loaded with sugar, and roams the streets of Washington, D.C., in a battered cab, where, disguised as a black man, he rolls dice to determine which among his black female fares he—ll murder. Afterwards he dumps his naked victims in crime-infested back alleys of black- slum neighborhoods, then sends e-mails boasting of his accomplishments to three other former MI-6 agents involved in a hellish Internet role-playing game. “I sensed I was at the start of another homicide mess,” sighs forensic-psychologist turned homicide-detective Alex Cross. Cross yearns to catch the “Jane Doe murderer” but is thwarted by Det. Chief George Pittman, who assigns sexy Det. Patsy Hampton to investigate Cross and come up with a reason for dismissing him. Meanwhile, Cross’s fiancÇe is kidnaped during a Bermuda vacation, and an anonymous e-mail warns him to back off. He doesn’t, of course, and just when it appears that Patterson is sleep-walking through his story, Cross nabs Shafer minutes after Shafer kills Det. Hampton. During the subsequent high-visibility trail, Shafer manages to make the jury believe that he’s innocent and that Cross was trying to frame him. When all seems lost, a sympathetic British intelligence chief offers to help Cross bring down Shafer, and the other homicidal game-players, during a showdown on the breezy beaches of Jamaica. Kinky mayhem, a cartoonish villain, regular glimpses of the kindly Cross caring for his loved ones, and an ending that spells a sequel: Patterson’s fans couldn’t ask for more.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-69328-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1999

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