A Rashomon-like mystery without a solution, not even the unveiling of a deeper mystery.

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DEVIL IN THE HOLE

The author of two novels about unlicensed private eye Henry Swann (Swann’s Last Song, 2008, etc.) switches gears for something equally laconic but completely different: a whydunit without the why.

After weeks of uneasiness that the lights in his Connecticut neighbor’s baronial house are left burning all night—though the rooms seem to go permanently dark one night at a time—James Kirkwood persuades two officers of the Sedgewick PD to check up on the house. Inside, they find John Hartman’s mother shot to death in her bed and his wife and three teenage children arrayed on a series of neatly folded blankets, each executed with a single shot. Even the family dog has been killed. Since there’s no sign of Hartman, a computer analyst for Xerox, Charlie Floyd, an investigator for the State’s Attorney, goes in search of him. But Hartman’s head start of three weeks has left his trail cold, and he’s an elusive quarry in more ways than one. Dozens of different narrators of individual chapters run across Hartman unwittingly without getting or giving a very specific impression of him. He seems to glide on autopilot through his trysts with secretary Janie McClellan, who seduced him a year ago. Stanley Blake, who fired him from his job, has no idea why his performance fell off. Hartman gets into a fight with a Florida ex-con barfly and gives a hitchhiking Scarsdale coed a lift for no good reason and with no result. When he gets a chance to describe his flight from his own point of view, Hartman is no more illuminating; he seems merely bemused and reactive. Perhaps the single most frustrating moment comes when he asks the sister he’s phoned, “Don’t you want to know why I did it?” and she answers, “No. No, I don’t.”

A Rashomon-like mystery without a solution, not even the unveiling of a deeper mystery.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4328-2696-3

Page Count: 254

Publisher: Five Star/Gale Cengage

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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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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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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