A satisfyingly chatty and informative small-town thriller.

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Iniquities of Gulch Fork

In this debut novel, a mystery involving disabled veterans unfolds in a peaceful Ozark setting.

Gulch Fork, the distinctively drawn central locale of this thriller, is “a worn town, a tired town, nestled in a valley of the Boston Mountains” in the Arkansas Ozarks, the kind of quiet, beautiful, rural location where people go when they want a respite from the crime and violence of the outside world. It’s in this well-chosen setting that the tale’s puzzling events transpire: Rob Dean, a Vietnam veteran with PTSD and Agent Orange-caused neuropathy, encounters a string of strange occurrences. Someone tampers with his window air conditioner. Strangers come snooping around his front door. His house is pelted with rocks. He receives threatening phone calls. And he becomes deeply suspicious of Smokey Jones and his wife, Sally, the itinerant couple he first employed for odd jobs out of pity and then partnered with in a cattle-raising operation on a remote property owned by Dean and occupied by fellow Vietnam vet Peter Ness and his wife, Darla. After having met Jones’ extended family one Christmas (“a bunch of hillbillies with a mob mentality”), Dean finds his misgivings only intensifying, and he shares his story with Samantha Caminos, the certified nursing assistant assigned to help him. Smith and Rhodes craft a natural-seeming rapport forming between patient and nurse, and this genuine touch extends to all the work’s characters as the mysteries surrounding Dean (and happening to others as well) steadily deepen and become more complicated. But the book’s most unforgettable player by a wide margin turns out to be the scoundrel and scam artist Jones, shifty, charismatic, “podgy in girth and his head bald as a stone,” a Flannery O’Connor-style grifter let loose among the simple, virtuous inhabitants of a Fannie Flagg novel. The authors fill in the back stories of their various characters with frequent and not always smoothly used flashbacks. But the storytelling remains so genial that most readers should happily press on to the end.

A satisfyingly chatty and informative small-town thriller.

Pub Date: June 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4917-9341-1

Page Count: 282

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2016

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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 appealing new heroine, a fast-moving plot, and a memorably nightmarish family make this one of Box’s best.

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THE BITTERROOTS

The creator of Wyoming Fish and Game Warden Joe Pickett (Wolf Pack, 2019, etc.) launches a new series starring a female private eye who messes with a powerful family and makes everyone involved rue the day.

Cassie Dewell’s been taking a monthly retainer from Bozeman attorney Rachel Mitchell for investigations of one sort and another, but she really doesn’t want to look into the case of Rachel’s newest client. That’s partly because Blake Kleinsasser, the fourth-generation firstborn of a well-established ranching family who moved to New York and made his own bundle before returning back home, comes across as a repellent jerk and partly because all the evidence indicates that he raped Franny Porché, his 15-year-old niece. And there’s plenty of evidence, from a rape kit showing his DNA to a lengthy, plausible statement from Franny. But Cassie owes Rachel, and Rachel tells her she doesn’t have to dig up exculpatory evidence, just follow the trail where it leads so that she can close off every other possibility. So Cassie agrees even though there’s an even more compelling reason not to: The Kleinsassers—Horst II and Margaret and their three other children, John Wayne, Rand, and Cheyenne, Franny’s thrice-divorced mother—are not only toxic, but viperishly dangerous to Blake and now Cassie. Everyone in Lochsa County, from Sheriff Ben Wagy on down, is in their pockets, and everyone Cassie talks to, from the Kleinsassers to the local law, finds new ways to make her life miserable. But Cassie, an ex-cop single mother, isn’t one to back down, especially since she wonders why anyone would take all the trouble to stop an investigation of a case that was as rock-solid as this one’s supposed to be.

An appealing new heroine, a fast-moving plot, and a memorably nightmarish family make this one of Box’s best.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-05105-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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