ST. LOUIS HUSTLE

A fledgling detective agency’s assignment to investigate a cheating husband uncovers betrayals beyond adultery.

Grapevine Investigations confirms the infidelity quickly at the Coral Court Motel, which soon winds up with more people spying from the bushes than cavorting behind closed doors. Grapevine’s investigators aren’t the only people interested in the activities at this hot-sheets motel that caters to surgeons and hookers alike. But when Coral Court’s clients and staff begin getting murdered, the private investigation collides with a criminal one that eventually finds that sex might be a great motivator, but it wasn’t the motive in this case. Although the action is fast-paced, Applewhite (Crazy for You, 2010, etc.) is at her best when she focuses on her characters instead of on plot devices that sometimes strain credulity (i.e.; a televised soap opera that almost exactly mirrors the action in the main narrative). Many of the characters are compelling as they struggle against what is perhaps the most insidious form of deception—self-deception; the belief that one drink won’t hurt, that a married lover will commit, that the right hairstyle can reverse time. However, some of the secondary characters are little more than prepackaged stereotypes, such as a caregiver who is overweight and therefore also lazy and slovenly. Applewhite isn’t afraid to stretch the boundaries of noir fiction, as when she saddles a glamorous adulteress with the daily care of two young children. These kinds of odd juxtapositions add interest and depth, even if they occasionally fall flat (a wealthy doctor drinking expensive cognac from a crystal decanter in a $25 hotel room). There are times when the book seems to neglect opportunities for humor and drama; a mishap at the Coral Court Motel in which a cheating husband and his cheating wife are accidentally sent to the same room goes nowhere. The ending feels similarly rushed, with the murderer and his motive presented in just a few unsatisfying paragraphs that leave many loose threads hanging. An uneven but overall enjoyable read.

 

Pub Date: April 11, 2011

ISBN: 978-1603183062

Page Count: 214

Publisher: L & L Dreamspell

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2011

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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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Locke’s advancement here is so bracing that you can’t wait to discover what happens next along her East Texas highway.

HEAVEN, MY HOME

The redoubtable Locke follows up her Edgar-winning Bluebird, Bluebird (2017) with an even knottier tale of racism and deceit set in the same scruffy East Texas boondocks.

It’s the 2016 holiday season, and African American Texas Ranger Darren Matthews has plenty of reasons for disquiet besides the recent election results. Chiefly there’s the ongoing fallout from Darren’s double murder investigation involving the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. He and his wife are in counseling. He’s become a “desk jockey” in the Rangers’ Houston office while fending off suspicions from a district attorney who thinks Darren hasn’t been totally upfront with him about a Brotherhood member’s death. (He hasn’t.) And his not-so-loving mother is holding on to evidence that could either save or crucify him with the district attorney. So maybe it’s kind of a relief for Darren to head for the once-thriving coastal town of Jefferson, where the 9-year-old son of another Brotherhood member serving hard time for murdering a black man has gone missing while motorboating on a nearby lake. Then again, there isn’t that much relief given the presence of short-fused white supremacists living not far from descendants of the town’s original black and Native American settlers—one of whom, an elderly black man, is a suspect in the possible murder of the still-missing boy. Meanwhile, Darren’s cultivating his own suspicions of chicanery involving the boy’s wealthy and imperious grandmother, whose own family history is entwined with the town’s antebellum past and who isn’t so fazed with her grandson’s disappearance that she can’t have a lavish dinner party at her mansion. In addition to her gifts for tight pacing and intense lyricism, Locke shows with this installment of her Highway 59 series a facility for unraveling the tangled strands of the Southwest’s cultural legacy and weaving them back together with the volatile racial politics and traumatic economic stresses of the present day. With her confident narrative hands on the wheel, this novel manages to evoke a portrait of Trump-era America—which, as someone observes of a pivotal character in the story, resembles “a toy ball tottering on a wire fence” that “could fall either way.”

Locke’s advancement here is so bracing that you can’t wait to discover what happens next along her East Texas highway.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-36340-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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