An often compelling, if slow-paced, excursion through exotic locales featuring unusual, complex characters.

A MURDER IN MALTA

AN ELSPETH DUFF MYSTERY

A security adviser to a hotel magnate unravels an intricate case on the Mediterranean archipelago of Malta in this first of a planned series of mysteries.

On April 22, 2014, about a week before Malta’s scheduled entry into the European Union, Scotswoman Elspeth Duff, who works for Baron Kennington’s global hotel empire, receives bad news. Scotland Yard informs her of a disturbing electronic transmission from a known terrorist Internet site in Saudi Arabia; it refers to activity involving the Kennington’s Valletta hotel in Malta. Duff immediately flies there to investigate any potential danger. The Kennington Valletta has architectural origins in the Baroque era of the 1600s, but it’s still a model of cutting-edge high-tech security and modern efficiency. Duff begins an exhaustive investigation of possible security breaches and terrorist involvement, teaming up with the hotel manager and representatives of the Anti-Terrorism Bureau at Scotland Yard; the Public Safety and Terrorism Sub-Directorate of Interpol; and the British High Commission. Predictably, the hotel’s Muslim guests and visitors fall under suspicion, and the prime suspect is a skittish young Brit of Arab descent with an interest in local mosques who meets another young Arab off-site. Crew is savvy enough to make effective use of this red herring, and she also skillfully toys with other stereotypes—including knighted diplomats, working mothers, heroic amputees and local cabbies. Each main character has a rich back story with enough skeletons in closets to provide grist for a number of future novels. The murder of a hotel guest, the notorious writer Conan FitzRoy, happens at the same time as the terrorist threats. Ideally, this should have accelerated the story’s desultory pace, but this novel isn’t a high-stakes drama (despite the author’s use of a ticking clock), nor is it a highly intricate puzzle. In the end, the smart, stylish Duff simply relays the solution, Sherlock Holmes–style, over five final pages.

An often compelling, if slow-paced, excursion through exotic locales featuring unusual, complex characters.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-1489547651

Page Count: 374

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 7, 2014

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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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