A DEATH IN CHINA

Art-historian Tom Stratton is on a rather dismal tour of China—when he bumps into his beloved mentor, Prof. David Wang, a Chinese-born US scholar who's in Peking to visit his long-estranged brother Wang Bin, Deputy Minister of Art and Culture. A couple of days later, however, Prof. Wang is reported dead, of a post-banquet heart attack ("Death by duck"). But why, if the death was natural, is Prof. Wang's passport missing? Why have pages been cut from his diary? And why do Wang Bin's henchmen try to kill Stratton when he starts asking a few questions? Wang Bin's rebellious daughter, the gorgeous Kangmei, is eager to help: she overheard her lather and uncle arguing. Soon the two of them are on the run, fleeing from cobras, torturers, and other Wang Bin specials—escaping thanks to Stratton's secret guerrilla-warfare expertise. (He's a Vietnam vet, haunted by civilian-killings during penetration missions into China.) And by the time that Stratton makes it alive to Hong Kong, he has caught on to what's going on: Wang Bin, in danger of political execution, is going to use his brother's body in a fake suicide. Furthermore, Stratton has figured out how Wang Bin is financing his secret flight and new life in America: he has been smuggling Chinese archaeological/art treasures to unscrupulous US dealers—in the coffins of American tourists who die while on tourist-trips to China. So the finale here features a series of ghoulish cemetery confrontations—as Stratton seeks revenge on the ruthless Wang Bin. . . while CIA agent Linda Greer gets caught in the crossfire while trying to keep the whole ugly affair under wraps. Montalbano and Hiaassen (Powder Burn, Trap Line) bog things down a bit with Stratton's Vietnam guilts—a stale thriller-element by now, and one that seems out-of-place amid the Buchanesque folderol. At the other extreme, the least serious moments here verge dangerously on Fu Manchu-vian cartoon. Still, a solid, lively thriller for the most part—with an efficient (if familiar) central plot, action that's scenic and varied, and loads of wry, unromanticized China atmosphere.

Pub Date: April 23, 1984

ISBN: 0375700676

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1984

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

BADLANDS

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 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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