Clunky closure for a series that’s taken on too much ballast.


Stroud wraps up his peculiar Deep South crime trilogy with a host of made men, undead men, evil spirits, and cops trying as hard as the author to hold everything together.

The third book set in the ironically named town of Niceville (Niceville, 2012; The Homecoming, 2013) opens with the police redoubling their efforts to purge the ghosts of the plantation-owning Teague family, which have sown demonic chaos locally. Rainey Teague, a 14-year-old boy seemingly recovered from possession at the end of the previous novel, has taken refuge with the family of Detective Nick Kavanaugh, but Rainey’s tossing a young boy in a river suggests all’s not well. Nick, meanwhile, has his hands full with a gruesome and inexplicable mass murder of a family, and ex-officer Charles Danziger has re-emerged from his apparent death to journey to the plantation where all this supernatural horror started. To that Stroud adds a subplot involving another cop dealing with mobsters in Florida and one mobster’s widow, Delores, using every clichéd feminine wile available to manipulate an FBI agent. Stroud’s kitchen-sink approach to plotting is almost admirably audacious, weaving in Mario Puzo, Anne Rice, and Stephen King. But the novel has the effect of random pages from each of those authors shuffled together. There are intermittent well-turned smaller scenes—Nick’s wife, Kate, confiding in their housekeeper, or Delores doting over her irksome, flatulent Chihuahua. But the overarching plot is busy and convoluted, never successfully meshing real-world bloodshed with Southern Gothic mysticism. “Maybe some kind of horrible bad evil but totally invisible demonic wasp cloud of mind-warping free-floating crazy is flying around Niceville and it drills into people’s skulls and turns them into sadistic psychokiller zombies?” a character jokingly asks. Stroud’s not joking, alas, but the story lacks the B-movie campiness such a setup deserves.

Clunky closure for a series that’s taken on too much ballast.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-101-87302-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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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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