Birtcher's latest is an agreeable but undercooked mystery about the sex trade.

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HARD LATITUDES

In Birtcher's fourth Mike Travis novel, the Hawaii-based PI, reluctantly answering a cry for help from his brother, finds himself threatened by a Hong Kong sex-trafficking ring.

The unprincipled sibling, Valden Van de Groot, runs the family's powerful finance company in Los Angeles. Though he's married, he was videotaped groping a prostitute in a hotel elevator, and now someone's blackmailing him. The girl, who's only 17, was imprisoned and programmed for eight years by the White Orchids, a sex trade operation with ties to local banks and officials. Travis, a former LAPD cop who dropped his aristocratic last name to distance himself from his wealthy family, intercepts a message from the blackmailers at a political fundraiser. With the help of an old cop friend and a sidekick from Hawaii, he connects the dots leading from one unsavory suspect to the next. Between incidents of violence and the kidnapping of a billionaire pharmaceutical executive's young grandson, Travis has to face up to relationship troubles back home. Birtcher is a solid, fluent writer; the story unfolds with good-humored ease, and Travis is a personable narrator. But though all of the elements are in place for a tense thriller, the book is consistently low-boil. The female victim is drawn rather sketchily, and the bad guys, who mostly operate offstage, aren't especially convincing.

Birtcher's latest is an agreeable but undercooked mystery about the sex trade.

Pub Date: June 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-57962-390-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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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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An unmissable thriller.

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THE CHAIN

For every child kidnapped, another must be taken. Otherwise The Chain will be broken.

Thirteen-year-old Kylie is waiting for the school bus on Plum Island, Massachusetts, when a man and a woman pull up wearing ski masks. Her brain tells her to run, but she doesn’t make the correct split-second decision, and she is taken at gunpoint. Her mother, Rachel, then receives a call that she is now part of The Chain. She must pay a ransom and kidnap another family’s child, and then that family must do the same for her daughter to be released. No law enforcement, no politicians, no journalists. The Chain cannot be broken or the children—her child, her Kylie—will be executed. While Rachel scrambles to get the money together (even though it isn’t about the money, she is told) and pick a child to steal, it becomes clear that she is being tracked and her every move is being monitored. She can’t do this, she must do this, she is now a completely different person who has done this. Inspired by the “exchange kidnappings” that take place in Mexico and the old-school chain letters of his childhood, crime novelist McKinty (Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly, 2017, etc.) takes what at first seems like a fantastical scenario and imbues it with all the terror, stress, trauma, and messiness of reality. At once a commentary on social media, greed, revenge, love, and true evil, and written with an almost lyrical quality, this book will have readers searching for more McKinty titles to devour.

An unmissable thriller.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-53126-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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