Not Johnson's best work but a pleasant composition demonstrating deft brushwork.

NEXT TO LAST STAND

Sheriff Walt Longmire investigates a murder associated with a long-lost painting.

When Charley Lee Stillwater, a resident of the Veterans' Home of Wyoming, dies and a shoe box containing $1 million is found among his otherwise modest possessions, Sheriff Longmire, who had known Stillwater for years, is called in. Preliminary questioning of Lee's cronies in the home reveals that he had had shadowy meetings with people who might have an interest in art, and a fragment of a painted canvas among his things reinforces the notion that Lee has somehow been dealing in art. With the help of his Northern Cheyenne friend Henry Standing Bear, Longmire has the fragment analyzed, and he eventually establishes that it is part of a study for Custer's Last Fight by Cassilly Adams, a mural-size painting that was for years an iconic image of the Battle of the Greasy Grass but which was destroyed in a fire in 1946. Traveling with Standing Bear and pursuing, as it were, the ghosts of Custer and Sitting Bull, Longmire explores the complex of invention and fact that looms so large in the American consciousness. The value of the painting, in fact, derives not from its quality as art but from its participation in the creation of the Custer myth. This is good stuff, if a little discursive, and helps redress a historical imbalance. However, the measured tone and leisurely exploration give way to accelerating action and a somewhat fragmented plot. Some characters believe the painting still exists, and one, Count von Lehman, a slightly absurd caricature of art dealers, believes he paid a substantial amount to acquire it. Then von Lehman disappears, apparently murdered, and the niceties of civilized competition drop away. All's revealed in the end, of course. Some of the characters are richly drawn and, in the case of Standing Bear, warmly familiar, and the antics of Lee's Veterans' Home cronies are a sweet tribute to America's better angels, but the villains are disappointing, and while it's more a caper than a gritty tale, mortal crimes are committed, lives are changed or curtailed, and the plotting seems somehow less than the sum of its parts.

Not Johnson's best work but a pleasant composition demonstrating deft brushwork.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-552253-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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Crave chills and thrills but don’t have time for a King epic? This will do the job before bedtime. Not that you’ll sleep.

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LATER

Horrormeister King follows a boy’s journey from childhood to adolescence among the dead—and their even creepier living counterparts.

Jamie Conklin sees dead people. Not for very long—they fade away after a week or so—but during that time he can talk to them, ask them questions, and compel them to answer truthfully. His uncanny gift at first seems utterly unrelated to his mother Tia’s work as a literary agent, but the links become disturbingly clear when her star client, Regis Thomas, dies shortly after starting work on the newest entry in his bestselling Roanoke Saga, and Tia and her lover, NYPD Detective Liz Dutton, drive Jamie out to Cobblestone Cottage to encourage the late author to dictate an outline of his latest page-turner so that Tia, who’s fallen on hard times, can write it in his name instead of returning his advance and her cut. Now that she’s seen what Jamie can do, Liz takes it on herself to arrange an interview in which Jamie will ask Kenneth Therriault, a serial bomber who’s just killed himself, where he’s stowed his latest explosive device before it can explode posthumously. His post-mortem encounter with Therriault exacts a high price on Jamie, who now finds himself more haunted than ever, though he never gives up on the everyday experiences in which King roots all his nightmares.

Crave chills and thrills but don’t have time for a King epic? This will do the job before bedtime. Not that you’ll sleep.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-7890-9649-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Hard Case Crime

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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