An amusing yet often disorienting crime tale with a flair for the ridiculous.



A novel focuses on strange events in a wacky Arizona town.

As the features editor of Casa Grande’s Daily Post, Ray Canin is accustomed to the challenges of producing local stories. But when Michael Coleson, the usual crime reporter, suffers a stroke, Ray must cover his beat amid a series of bizarre attacks. A local bureaucrat, a nitpicker responsible for the city code, is found dead in the desert, with his ears, nose, and tongue sliced off. An older man has attempted to rape multiple women while claiming to be the Native American deity Kokopelli. The body of an animal lover is discovered with a feather supposedly from Kokopelli’s headdress on her. Interwoven with these crimes are Ray’s feature subjects—a vast sanctuary for peccaries called Rancho Javelina; a woman intent on founding a community for cats; and a man who is committed to pogo-sticking across the country. At just under 200 pages, Coates’ book is a whirlwind affair. The work’s fast pace and myriad twists, fueled by a vast cast, are at once thrilling and perplexing. Ray’s narration is snappy, comic, and occasionally macabre. The author’s knack for delivering illustrative details comes through in Ray’s vivid observations, as when “rain came down with the subtlety of a two-year-old with a hammer.” He’s a journalist-turned–film-noir-detective faced with ludicrous circumstances. But the piling on of these events will quickly confuse the audience, requiring all but the most attentive readers to frequently refresh their memories of Coates’ characters. In addition, the author falters in his depiction of Franklin Jackson, a “Heart of Africa black” man and the only character whose race is mentioned. Homeless yet highly educated, Jackson provides Ray with street intelligence. But Ray frequently suggests that Jackson is not truly homeless and that his condition is part of an academic study and a ruse to evade the attention of Casa Grande’s white residents. While Coates tries to humorously incorporate this quirky character into the novel, his attempt unintentionally minimizes the challenges of living unhoused in a racist society. Jackson is a minor character yet in a story with so many players, the author would have been wise to treat each one with greater care.

An amusing yet often disorienting crime tale with a flair for the ridiculous.

Pub Date: April 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-09-328674-8

Page Count: 199

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

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This one’s an attention grabber. Get a copy.


Past and present collide on a trail of death in the second in the authors’ Nora Kelly series, begun with Old Bones (2019).

When a local sheriff investigates the illegal activity of relic hunters in an abandoned, middle-of-nowhere New Mexico gold-mining town called High Lonesome, he discovers a mummified corpse and a fabulous cross of gold. The discovery is on federal land, so the FBI gets involved. Special Agent Corrie Swanson would have liked a juicier assignment than checking out some old bones in the high desert, but she has a degree in forensic anthropology, and she’s a rookie. She persuades a reluctant Dr. Nora Kelly, senior curator at the Santa Fe Archaeological Institute, to help puzzle out what happened to the man, as it’s unclear whether a crime has been committed. Forensics determine that the gold is slightly radioactive, and there’s a pack animal skull with a bullet hole. And by the looks of the decades-old corpse, the poor man suffered a horrible death. High Lonesome is on the Jornada del Muerto, or Dead Man’s Journey, the bleak and dismal trail that connected Mexico City and Santa Fe during Spanish colonial rule. The authors are expert plotters and storytellers with smart, engaging characters—Kelly is an experienced pro who thinks Swanson “looked very much the rookie.” Newbie Swanson had barely passed her firearms qualification, and being a lousy shot may bring tragic consequences and a guilty conscience. Luckily, Sheriff Watts has practiced his quick draw since he was a preschooler. Meanwhile, some of those relic hunters are dangerous men searching for an object—not the gold—unknown to Kelly and Swanson. To a descendant of the dead man, “most people would have thought his precious item fit only to line a henhouse with.” Expect nice twists, hairy danger, and good old-fashioned gunplay.

This one’s an attention grabber. Get a copy.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4727-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.


In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020


Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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