Not much more plot than a guide to Zen, but dozens of wonderfully precise passages distinguishing merely philistine...


Full disclosure: DCS Colin Harpur and Assistant Chief Constable Desmond Iles’ 31st case contains very little Harpur and not much more Iles.

Instead, James (Play Dead, 2013, etc.) finds Ralph W. Ember, a crook who’s been at the game so long he’s a local institution, and ACC Esther Davidson, both reminiscing about the decades-old Mondial-Trave incident that went a long way toward making them both what they are. Having recently thrown in his lot with the Pasque Uno drug firm, Ralph is one of four men sent to reconnoiter Mondial Street and Trave Square, the capital of an area whose jurisdiction is disputed by the rival Opal Render. Distracted and bullied by Pasque Uno’s Quentin Stayley, who keeps referring to him—as many later associates will—as Panicking Ralph, he decides he’d better return to the place on his own for another look. This time he spots Esther, who’s been tipped off about the coming battle and plans to introduce some armed officers from the Met to alter its course to her own ends. After wrestling manfully with his conscience about what to tell whom, Ralph reports his discovery to Pasque Uno leader Dale "Gladhand" Hoskins. His warnings are brushed off, and bloodshed ensues. Most writers would limit this Kabuki flashback to the opening chapter or two; James allows it three-quarters of his tale, with a scant 50 pages devoted to Harpur and Iles’ present-day attempt to close the books on the incident for good.

Not much more plot than a guide to Zen, but dozens of wonderfully precise passages distinguishing merely philistine lawbreakers like Stayley (“Il y a des lacunes, as the French would say”) from truly clueless hopefuls like Panicking Ralph (“he thought the people he was with…would be familiar with the lagoons”).

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-78029-065-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Creme de la Crime

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.


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. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be...


Box takes another break from his highly successful Joe Pickett series (Stone Cold, 2014, etc.) for a stand-alone about a police detective, a developmentally delayed boy, and a package everyone in North Dakota wants to grab.

Cassandra Dewell can’t leave Montana’s Lewis and Clark County fast enough for her new job as chief investigator for Jon Kirkbride, sheriff of Bakken County. She leaves behind no memories worth keeping: her husband is dead, her boss has made no bones about disliking her, and she’s looking forward to new responsibilities and the higher salary underwritten by North Dakota’s sudden oil boom. But Bakken County has its own issues. For one thing, it’s cold—a whole lot colder than the coldest weather Cassie’s ever imagined. For another, the job she turns out to have been hired for—leading an investigation her new boss doesn’t feel he can entrust to his own force—makes her queasy. The biggest problem, though, is one she doesn’t know about until it slaps her in the face. A fatal car accident that was anything but accidental has jarred loose a stash of methamphetamines and cash that’s become the center of a battle between the Sons of Freedom, Bakken County’s traditional drug sellers, and MS-13, the Salvadorian upstarts who are muscling in on their territory. It’s a setup that leaves scant room for law enforcement officers or for Kyle Westergaard, the 12-year-old paperboy damaged since birth by fetal alcohol syndrome, who’s walked away from the wreck with a prize all too many people would kill for.

A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be welcome to return and tie up the gaping loose end Box leaves. The unrelenting cold makes this the perfect beach read.

Pub Date: July 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-58321-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: April 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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