A third book may resolve the tangled plot, but this one is messy and overwritten.


Thriller author Stroud returns to the eerie Southern town of Niceville, where plantation-era ghosts abound, gunplay is routine, and genres tend to morph and merge.

For the sprawling second book in his trilogy, Stroud (Niceville, 2012) again strives to find the place where noir, thriller and paranormal fiction intersect. Detective Nick Kavanaugh is investigating a bank robbery that appears to have involved his brother-in-law Byron Dietz, a wife-beating horror who’s implicated in some shady activity with Chinese businessmen. Meanwhile, Nick’s wife, Kate, is caring for Deitz’s shellshocked wife and kids, as well as 10-year-old Rainey Teague, who (as detailed in the first book) has a mystical connection to a family of slavery-era reprobates. Stroud can write knockout violent set pieces: A high-speed police chase gone terribly awry; Dietz’s wild escape from custody thanks to a deer crashing into a transport bus; and a standoff in a Bass Pro Shop stocked with guns and outdoor gear. In these scenes, Stroud masters stark imagery, tough talk and street smarts, even if the cops other than Nick are relatively faceless. Where the book stumbles is in its ungainly effort to weave in plodding bits of horror and Southern history amid the crime story. Scenes involving Rainey Teague largely involve him and extended members of the Kavanaugh clan exploring an old plantation house, where Teague is possessed by “nothing,” a nefarious demon trying to extract him from adult support. As a vision of evil, a boldfaced voice in a preteen’s head isn’t especially terrifying, and, tucked as this all is in a busy plot thick with characters and historical references, its impact is weakened further still. The most clearly drawn character, in fact, is Deitz, but he’s a hard guy to root for.

A third book may resolve the tangled plot, but this one is messy and overwritten.

Pub Date: July 16, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-307-70096-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 21, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2013

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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. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Lame but, like its predecessors, bound for bestsellerdom.


A serial killer with a sense of history is the baddie in this latest from Baldacci, one of the reigning kings of potboilers (Split Second, 2003, etc.).

He kills, he leaves clues, he flatters through imitation: Son of Sam, the San Francisco Zodiac killer, Richard Ramirez, John Wayne Gracy, and so on down a sanguinary list of accredited members of the Monsters’ Hall of Fame. Suddenly, the landscape of poor little Wrightsburg, Virginia, is littered with corpses, and ex-Secret Service agents Sean King and Michelle Maxwell have their hands full. That’s because bewildered, beleaguered Chief of Police Todd Williams has turned to the newly minted private investigating firm of King and Maxwell for desperately needed (unofficial) help. Even these ratiocinative wizards, however, admit to puzzlement. “But I'm not getting this,” says Michelle. “Why commit murders in similar styles to past killers as a copycat would and then write letters making it clear you’re not them?” Excellent question, and it goes pretty much unanswered. Never mind—enter the battling Battles, a family with the requisite number of sins and secrets to qualify fully as hot southern Gothic and to prop up a plot in need. Bobby Battles, the patriarch, is bedridden, but Remmy, his wife, is one lively mischief-making steel magnolia. She’s brought breaking-and-entering charges against decent local handyman Junior Deaver, who as a result languishes in the county jail. Convinced of his innocence, Junior’s lawyer hires King & Maxwell to sniff around for exculpatory evidence. Well, will the two plot streams flow together? You betcha. Will the copycat-serial-killer at one point decide that King and Maxwell are just too clever to live? Inevitably. And when at last that CCSK’s identity is revealed and his crimes explained (talkily and tediously), will readers be satisfied? Only the charitable among them.

Lame but, like its predecessors, bound for bestsellerdom.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 2004

ISBN: 0-446-53108-1

Page Count: 440

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2004

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