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NAKED CRUELTY

This thriller from the author of The Thorn Birds (1998) makes up in entertainment what it lacks in verisimilitude.

Third in McCullough’s set of thrillers starring harried college-town police captain Carmine Delmonico. 

Amid the racial and political strife of 1968, Holloman and Carew, the towns surrounding Chubb University (McCullough’s stand-in for Yale), are being stalked by their worst threat yet. A rapist has been serially attacking accomplished young women. After the seventh of his victims reports the crime—she was bound, raped and choked by a masked man who gained entry to her apartment—the other women come forward. Carmine and his team piece together the MO of this madman, who calls himself the Dodo. He studies his victims, cases their apartments in advance with pilfered keys, then dons a bizarre disguise to strike, usually every three weeks. With the law now on his trail, the Dodo has apparently decided to silence future prey. A young black doctor is the first to die. A neighborhood watch group, the Gentleman Walkers, are about as helpful as the Whiffenpoofs. And Carmine’s newest detective in training, spoiled, lovely apricot-tressed trust-fund baby Helen, is upsetting her working-class co-workers. But when Helen’s boyfriend, physics phénomène Kurt, scion of West German industrial chemical tycoons, is kidnapped, Helen’s knowledge of Kurt’s family politics helps Carmine crack the case. Carmine’s hunt for the Dodo is beset by other distractions. His wife Desdemona’s lingering postpartum depression has left her at the mercy of a tyrannical toddler. His underling Corey overlooked a junior detective’s drinking problem, with tragic results. In a nearby luxury mall, a vandal has targeted a glass shop owned by woman-with-a-past Amanda, to the chagrin of her would-be fiancé, mall owner Hank. Could the vandal and the Dodo be one and the same? And what of Amanda’s effete twin nephews, who may, as youngsters, have been not-so-accidental parricides? McCullough’s omniscient narration builds suspense by cutting away from the POV of the guilty party just in time. The '60s atmosphere, however, is less than convincing.

This thriller from the author of The Thorn Birds (1998) makes up in entertainment what it lacks in verisimilitude.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4391-7831-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2010

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A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

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. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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THE WINNER

Irritatingly trite woman-in-periler from lawyer-turned-novelist Baldacci. Moving away from the White House and the white-shoe Washington law firms of his previous bestsellers (Absolute Power, 1996; Total Control, 1997), Baldacci comes up with LuAnn Tyler, a spunky, impossibly beautiful, white-trash truck stop waitress with a no-good husband and a terminally cute infant daughter in tow. Some months after the birth of Lisa, LuAnn gets a phone call summoning her to a make-shift office in an unrented storefront of the local shopping mall. There, she gets a Faustian offer from a Mr. Jackson, a monomaniacal, cross-dressing manipulator who apparently knows the winning numbers in the national lottery before the numbers are drawn. It seems that LuAnn fits the media profile of what a lottery winner should be—poor, undereducated but proud—and if she's willing to buy the right ticket at the right time and transfer most of her winnings to Jackson, she'll be able to retire in luxury. Jackson fails to inform her, however, that if she refuses his offer, he'll have her killed. Before that can happen, as luck would have it, LuAnn barely escapes death when one of husband Duane's drug deals goes bad. She hops on a first-class Amtrak sleeper to Manhattan with a hired executioner in pursuit. But executioner Charlie, one of Jackson's paid handlers, can't help but hear wedding bells when he sees LuAnn cooing with her daughter. Alas, a winning $100- million lottery drawing complicates things. Jackson spirits LuAnn and Lisa away to Sweden, with Charlie in pursuit. Never fear. Not only will LuAnn escape a series of increasingly violent predicaments, but she'll also outwit Jackson, pay an enormous tax bill to the IRS, and have enough left over to honeymoon in Switzerland. Too preposterous to work as feminine wish-fulfillment, too formulaic to be suspenseful. (Book-of-the-Month Club main selection)

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1997

ISBN: 0-446-52259-7

Page Count: 528

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1997

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