At its best, a gripping meditation on betrayals new and old.

PICKARD COUNTY ATLAS

Buried secrets and more recent betrayals prompt conflict in this slow-burning crime novel.

Thornton’s novel chronicles the interwoven lives of several small-town Nebraska residents as they grapple with past trauma. The year is 1978, but a death that occurred years earlier provides the novel with its inciting incident. “Dell Junior, the oldest of three Reddick boys, was seven when he was killed by a farmhand named Rollie Asher,” Thornton writes. It’s something that’s led to plenty of trauma within the Reddick family, made even worse because the boy's body was never found. The novel opens with sheriff's deputy Harley Jensen encountering Dell Junior’s brother Paul and observing that “the only thing young about Paul was the age on his license.” Dell Senior decides to purchase a headstone for his long-dead son, but rather than provide closure to the family and the larger community, it exacerbates existing tensions. While this is a book in which illicit activity takes place with a law enforcement officer at its center, it’s a particularly measured variety of crime fiction—more concerned with the state of its characters’ souls than the legality (or lack thereof) of their actions. While it takes time to build momentum, the novel ultimately arrives at a heart-wrenching place. All the while, the characterization is helped by Thornton’s lean, lyrical prose: “Time stopped again. A pathetic breeze, not cool, lifted the air. He was still in there, still with no light.” The slow start can be frustrating, but the narrative payoff is eminently worthwhile.

At its best, a gripping meditation on betrayals new and old.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-3742-3125-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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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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On one level, it’s great entertainment; on another, a window into a sobering possibility.

NEVER

A complex, scary thriller that feels too plausible for comfort.

Republican President Pauline Green is trying to steer the United States through a dangerous world. China spends billions in Africa to extend its global influence, while North African countries like Chad are beset by criminals and terrorists. But that’s secondary to the real problem: Rebels in North Korea try to overthrow the Communist dynasty and reunite the North and South, which scares the bejesus out of China. They fear the peninsula’s reunification, “a euphemism for takeover by the capitalist West.” The Chinese believe America and Europe want to destroy China “and would stop at nothing," so the last thing they need is a bordering nation with West-leaning sympathies. And domestically, Green faces “blowhard” wannabe president Sen. James Moore, who thinks there’s no point in having nukes if you won’t use them. Even her personal life is complicated: Her husband “was a good lover, but she had never wanted to tear his clothes off with her teeth.” In fact, the first spouses are quietly drifting apart. Yet she “could not fall in love” with another man. “It would be a hurricane, a train crash, a nuclear bomb.” Speaking of which, both superpowers have ironclad commitments to protect their allies, even if some crazy third parties get their hands on nuclear weapons. Will China and the U.S. be drawn into all-out war neither wants? This novel deals with the same great-power issues as Elliot Ackerman and James Stavridis’ recent 2034, and both will give you the willies. Follett could have cut back on the North African subplot and delivered a tighter yarn, but then you mightn’t have learned that “a helicopter glides like a grand piano.” Anyway, that’s Follett: You’ll be so absorbed in the story threads that you’ll follow them anywhere—and you’ll suddenly realize you’ve read hundreds of pages.

On one level, it’s great entertainment; on another, a window into a sobering possibility.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-59-330001-5

Page Count: 816

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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