A fast-paced detective novel, enhanced by exceptional characters and a striking ending.

FORCE OF IMPACT

A California private eye’s investigation of a questionable suicide leads to a clandestine club and a series of murders in Cassiday’s (Wipeout, 2017, etc.) mystery-thriller.

When horror novelist Bart Dillinger realizes that his girlfriend, Jackie Merced, has been missing without a trace since the previous night, he’s reluctant to call the cops. He fears that they’ll think he’s overreacting; what if she’s just stranded somewhere with a dead cellphone battery? So he hires PI Ethan Carr, who verifies that Jackie is, sadly, dead. Cops recently found her shot to death in a car submerged in the ocean; amazingly, they write it off as suicide, theorizing that she shot herself while simultaneously driving off a cliff. Neither Carr nor Dillinger buy that, so the PI stays on the case. It turns out Jackie belonged to the Russian Club, a secret organization whose membership requires another member’s recommendation. Carr attempts to infiltrate it while also trying to tie Jackie’s death with two other victims, who also died from gunshots to the head. Then he comes home to find human eyeballs nailed to his front door. As if that weren’t enough, someone later tosses a stick of dynamite into his car—while he’s inside it. Brief chapters and short, punchy dialogue give Cassiday’s story a consistently brisk tempo. This is particularly effective during Carr’s rapid-fire interrogations of various people, including his own client. Dillinger, too, is a sensational character; his need to learn what happened to Jackie seemingly, and intriguingly, competes with his yearning for a successful writing career. The possibility that Dillinger might be headed toward a mental collapse later becomes a potent subplot—one that overshadows the main investigation, which becomes stagnant. However, a late introduction of a villainous character ramps up the menace, and the wrap-up of Carr’s case, and the grim coda, are memorable.

A fast-paced detective novel, enhanced by exceptional characters and a striking ending.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5483-0766-0

Page Count: 561

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2018

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Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless...

SPLIT SECOND

Two defrocked Secret Service Agents investigate the assassination of one presidential candidate and the kidnapping of another.

Baldacci (The Christmas Train, 2002, etc.) sets out with two plot strands. The first begins when something distracts Secret Service Agent Sean King and during that “split second,” presidential candidate Clyde Ritter is shot dead. King takes out the killer, but that’s not enough to save his reputation with the Secret Service. He retires and goes on to do often tedious but nonetheless always lucrative work (much like a legal thriller such as this) at a law practice. Plot two begins eight years later when another Secret Service Agent, Michelle Maxwell, lets presidential candidate John Bruno out of her sight for a few minutes at a wake for one of his close associates. He goes missing. Now Maxwell, too, gets in dutch with the SS. Though separated by time, the cases are similar and leave several questions unanswered. What distracted King at the rally? Bruno had claimed his friend’s widow called him to the funeral home. The widow (one of the few characters here to have any life) says she never called Bruno. Who set him up? Who did a chambermaid at Ritter’s hotel blackmail? And who is the man in the Buick shadowing King’s and Maxwell’s every move? King is a handsome, rich divorce, Maxwell an attractive marathon runner. Will they join forces and find each other kind of, well, appealing? But of course. The two former agents traverse the countryside, spinning endless hypotheses before the onset, at last, of a jerrybuilt conclusion that begs credibility and offers few surprises.

Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless concoction.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2003

ISBN: 0-446-53089-1

Page Count: 406

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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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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