The characters’ clever quips are lost in a plot so overloaded that it’s hard to care very much about any one of its many...

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SEEING RED

A reporter can’t say no to investigating multiple mysteries in a tale in which the discovery of several dead bodies is upstaged by myriad other complications.

Following her foray into crime-solving to save her own hide (Confessions of a Red Herring, 2018), now-freelancing reporter Alex Vlodnachek is ready for the stories she writes to be the most dramatic part of her life. She even plans to take a turn as wise old advice columnist Aunt Margie as soon as she can figure out a way to get cantankerous Marty Crunk, the current voice of the common-sense advice queen, to show her the tricks of the trade. Marty’s willing to help so long as Alex will put him up and keep him away from his nudging niece, Helen, who Marty is convinced is trying to do him in through “caretaking” for him after a short hospital stay. Alex promises to use her connections to investigate as well as to lodge Marty even though her house is filling up. Together with her brother, Nick, who seems to have taken up permanent residence, she discovers that someone evidently broke into the house and left a baby for the siblings to care for. Alex’s dog, Lucy, has eaten the note that might have explained crucial details about the new arrival, so until Alex can look into it further, the baby, dubbed “James Bond Vlodnachek,” is in their care. Enter Baba, Alex and Nick’s grandmother, who’s determined to help with J.B. and lighten the mood. Alex thinks it’s just as well that Baba has come to town given the other mysteries on her plate. Her neighbor and crush, Ian Sterling, has asked for Alex’s help in the sudden disappearance of his father, Harkins. In investigating the disappearance at Ian’s B&B, Alex discovers a body in a freezer on the property. What sort of trouble is Harkins in, and is his body likely to be Alex’s next discovery?

The characters’ clever quips are lost in a plot so overloaded that it’s hard to care very much about any one of its many mysteries.

Pub Date: May 28, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4967-1658-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Kensington

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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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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