Of course the stories are uneven, often overlong and over-explained, and occasionally, like the all-too-aptly titled “This...

At long last, Black Lizard collects all 28 of the Op’s completed stories, plus the opening chapter of one incomplete tale and the original Black Mask serializations of the novels that were revised and published as Red Harvest and The Dain Curse.

Though he’s become synonymous with the hard-boiled shamus, the nameless operative for San Francisco’s Continental Detective Agency is not so much an anti–golden age detective—he made his first appearance in 1923, the same year as his polar opposite, Lord Peter Wimsey, before the gentleman sleuth had frozen into a bundle of clichés—as an anti–pulp detective, rarely carrying a gun in his earliest adventures and self-effacing about his talents and his testosterone. He’s also something of an anti-character who lacks not only a name, but many other individual markers that made his offspring Sam Spade such an indelible hero. But what a voice! As early as “It” (1923), the Op already sounds brisk, businesslike, precise, and articulate. In the eight (mostly early) stories not already available in the Library of America’s collection of Hammett’s crime stories, the Op, hiding some serious deductive chops beneath his mastery of violent action, figures out, among other things, why three corpses would have been sandwiched into a clothes press, which interested party took a shot at a bedridden patriarch, and what a known gangster has to do with the kidnapping of an advertising executive’s wife. Most of these tales, like the 20 more familiar ones from “The House in Turk Street” to “The Gutting of Couffignal” to “The Big Knockover,” begin with apparently simple cases that rapidly launch the Op into deeper waters that never quite close over his head. Editors Layman and Rivett make a persuasive case for Hammett’s willingness to adapt his style to three very different Black Mask editors, George W. Sutton, Philip C. Cody, and Joseph Thompson Shaw, the last of whom set the seal on Hammett’s transformation from pulp storyteller to one of America’s most influential novelists.

Of course the stories are uneven, often overlong and over-explained, and occasionally, like the all-too-aptly titled “This King Business,” just plain silly. No matter. Fans of hard-boiled fiction will know the holy grail when they see it.

Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-525-43295-1

Page Count: 752

Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017


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


A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be...

Box takes another break from his highly successful Joe Pickett series (Stone Cold, 2014, etc.) for a stand-alone about a police detective, a developmentally delayed boy, and a package everyone in North Dakota wants to grab.

Cassandra Dewell can’t leave Montana’s Lewis and Clark County fast enough for her new job as chief investigator for Jon Kirkbride, sheriff of Bakken County. She leaves behind no memories worth keeping: her husband is dead, her boss has made no bones about disliking her, and she’s looking forward to new responsibilities and the higher salary underwritten by North Dakota’s sudden oil boom. But Bakken County has its own issues. For one thing, it’s cold—a whole lot colder than the coldest weather Cassie’s ever imagined. For another, the job she turns out to have been hired for—leading an investigation her new boss doesn’t feel he can entrust to his own force—makes her queasy. The biggest problem, though, is one she doesn’t know about until it slaps her in the face. A fatal car accident that was anything but accidental has jarred loose a stash of methamphetamines and cash that’s become the center of a battle between the Sons of Freedom, Bakken County’s traditional drug sellers, and MS-13, the Salvadorian upstarts who are muscling in on their territory. It’s a setup that leaves scant room for law enforcement officers or for Kyle Westergaard, the 12-year-old paperboy damaged since birth by fetal alcohol syndrome, who’s walked away from the wreck with a prize all too many people would kill for.

A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be welcome to return and tie up the gaping loose end Box leaves. The unrelenting cold makes this the perfect beach read.

Pub Date: July 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-58321-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: April 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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