A flawed but entertaining occult murder mystery.

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THE FIFTH PETAL

In Barry’s third Salem novel, the unsolved murders of three young women continue to roil “Witch City.”

It’s 2014, and Rose Whelan, once a prominent historian specializing in the study of the Salem witch trials, is now an addled bag lady who wanders the streets of Salem, accosting passers-by with dire predictions and obsessing about oak trees, Celtic goddesses, and an avenging spirit called a banshee. When a bad-seed teenager who threatens Rose is killed, seemingly by an unearthly shriek, the townsfolk pressure Salem Police Chief John Rafferty, a recovering alcoholic, to reopen a 25-year-old cold case, the 1989 slayings of three wannabe witches in which Rose was implicated but never charged. Rose had asked several women, descendants of accused witches hanged in 1692, to consecrate, on Halloween, the ground where the bodies of their ancestors had been dumped in a crevasse. The ceremony turned chaotic as three of the women, Olivia, Cheryl, and Susan, were murdered, by an unseen hand, to the accompaniment of a bansheelike shriek. A fourth, Leah, went missing. The only survivors were Rose and Callie, Olivia’s 5-year-old daughter, whom Rose rescued. Raised by nuns elsewhere in Massachusetts, Callie was told that Rose had died. Upon learning that she's alive, she returns to Salem to help her. Told variably from the points of view of Callie, Rafferty, and Rose, the story grows convoluted as the fortunes of two old New England rival families, the Hathornes and the Whitings, intermesh with Rose’s ravings, Callie’s clairvoyance, and Rafferty’s continuing struggle to find the truth while remaining sober. (Tip: when falling off the wagon, avoid absinthe.) Since the ultimate answers are supplied or at least confirmed by Callie’s visions and dreams, one wonders why she couldn’t have divulged these earlier, saving us all from having to turn (eagerly, it must be said) so many pages. The investigation concentrates on what proves to be a major MacGuffin, pulling focus away from the actual culprit, who is hiding in plain sight.

A flawed but entertaining occult murder mystery.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-90560-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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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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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

ONE GOOD DEED

Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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