Romance, suspense, mystery, and bawdy historical customs add up to a fine read.

READ REVIEW

A STROKE OF MALICE

A couple with a reputation for crime-solving becomes involved in an odd murder case in 1832 Scotland.

Kiera Gage, better known as Lady Darby, and her husband, Sebastian Gage (An Artless Demise, 2019, etc.), are among the five dozen guests the Duke and Duchess of Bowmont have invited to Twelfth Night festivities at an immense Gothic castle in the Scottish border country. Kiera’s first marriage—the source of the title she'd rather not use—made her both miserable and notorious for executing anatomical drawings for her cruel husband, but she’s more recently gained a reputation as a portrait artist, and the Duchess is her client. Each guest at the ball is given a costume to wear and a role to play; amusingly, the heavily pregnant Kiera is a nun. Although the Duke claims all his children as his own, several of them were actually sired by other men. When his third son, Lord Edward, offers a ghost tour, the Gages are happy to escape the ballroom until the group stumbles upon a dead body in the dungeons. Ravaged by rats and decomposition, the corpse is difficult to identify, but its gentlemanly attire suggests that it may be Helmswick, the husband of the duke's daughter Lady Eleanor, who left for Paris a month ago. The ducal couple beg the Gages to investigate while withholding vital information. Lady Eleanor was unhappy with Helmswick, a man of many secrets and mistresses, and she’s commenced an affair with her first love, the Marquess of Marsdale. After the guests who were not at the castle when the murder occurred are permitted to depart, a disconcerting number of suspects remain behind. Kiera knows she’s touched a nerve when someone tries to push her down a flight of stairs. She and Gage must uncover many family secrets before they can unmask a killer.

Romance, suspense, mystery, and bawdy historical customs add up to a fine read.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-451-49138-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

CROOKED RIVER

FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast finds evil afoot in his latest action-filled adventure (Verses for the Dead, 2018, etc.).

Imagine Florida beachcombers’ shock when they discover a shoe with a severed foot inside. Soon they see dozens more feet, all in identical shoes, bobbing toward the beach. Police and FBI ultimately count more than a hundred of them washing up on Sanibel and Captiva Islands' tranquil shores. Pendergast teams up with the junior Special Agent Armstrong Coldmoon to investigate this strange phenomenon. Oceanographers use a supercomputer to analyze Gulf currents and attempt to determine where the feet entered the ocean. Were they dumped off a ship or an island? Does each one represent a homicide? Analysts examine chemical residues and pollen, even the angle of each foot’s amputation, but the puzzle defies all explanation. Attention focuses on Cuba, where “something terrible was happening” in front of a coastal prison, and on China, the apparent source of the shoes. The clever plot is “a most baffling case indeed” for the brilliant Pendergast, but it’s the type of problem he thrives on. He’s hardly a stereotypical FBI agent, given for example his lemon-colored silk suit, his Panama hat, and his legendary insistence on working alone—until now. Pendergast rarely blinks—perhaps, someone surmises, he’s part reptile. But equally odd is Constance Greene, his “extraordinarily beautiful,” smart, and sarcastic young “ward” who has “eyes that had seen everything and, as a result, were surprised by nothing.” Coldmoon is more down to earth: part Lakota, part Italian, and “every inch a Fed.” Add in murderous drug dealers, an intrepid newspaper reporter, coyotes crossing the U.S.–Mexico border, and a pissed-off wannabe graphic novelist, and you have a thoroughly entertaining cast of characters. There is plenty of suspense, and the action gets bloody.

Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4725-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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This thriller about the pursuit of a serial killer suffers from an unpleasant hero and a glacial pace.

OUTFOX

An FBI agent is determined to catch a man who bilks and murders wealthy women, but the chase goes slowly.

Brown (Tailspin, 2018, etc.) has published 70 bestsellers, and this one employs her usual template of thriller spiked with romance. Its main character, Drex Easton, is an FBI agent in pursuit of a serial killer, but for him it’s personal. When he was a boy, his mother left him and his father for another man, Weston Graham. Drex believes Graham murdered her and that he has killed at least seven more women after emptying their bank accounts. Now he thinks he has the clever Graham—current alias Jasper Ford—in his sights, and he’s willing to put his career at risk to catch him. The women Ford targets are wealthy, and his new prey is no exception—except that, uncharacteristically, he has married her. Talia Ford proves to be a complication for Drex, who instantly falls in lust with her even though he’s not at all sure she isn’t her husband's accomplice. Posing as a would-be novelist, Drex moves into an apartment next door to the Fords’ posh home and tries to ingratiate himself, but tensions rise immediately—Jasper is suspicious, and Talia has mixed feelings about Drex's flirtatious behavior. When Talia’s fun-loving friend Elaine Conner turns up dead after a cruise on her yacht and Jasper disappears, Drex and Talia become allies. There are a few action sequences and fewer sex scenes, but the novel’s pace bogs down repeatedly in long, mundane conversations. Drex's two FBI agent sidekicks are more interesting characters than he is; Drex himself is such a caricature of a macho man, so heedless of ethics, and so aggressive toward women that it’s tough to see him as a good guy. Brown adds a couple of implausible twists at the very end that make him seem almost as untrustworthy as Graham.

This thriller about the pursuit of a serial killer suffers from an unpleasant hero and a glacial pace.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4555-7219-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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