Tighter than the writer’s most recent efforts, but far from spellbinding.

DIVINE JUSTICE

Baldacci (The Whole Truth, 2008, etc.) moves his recurring Camel Club characters far enough offstage to let tough guy hero Oliver Stone take on a mean mountain town singlehandedly (for a while, at least) in something of the fashion of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher.

The dark American hole in need of a flushing out is Divine, a tiny burg in Virginia’s far southwest coal country where quietly modest Vietnam hero Stone, né John Carr, has landed. It’s not where he was going. He had been getting the hell out of Washington, D.C., where heavy-handed, stonehearted, government forces were about to close in on him, but he couldn’t help stepping into an unfair fight brewing in his Amtrak coach. Handsome, youngish ex-high school quarterback Danny Riker was stupid enough to accuse knuckle draggers with whom he had been playing cards of cheating, leading to a knock down drag out in which Stone wasted all of the thugs and incurred the wrath of the Amtrak conductor, making it necessary for all involved to get off at the next stop. Stone takes Danny under his wing and Danny reluctantly takes Stone back home to Divine and his pretty mother Abby, owner of Divine’s best diner. Stone notes quickly that Divine has a gloss of prosperity very unlike the neighboring hellholes. That sheen doesn’t extend to the downtrodden miners whose hideous labors keep them gobbling methadone day after day. Where’s the money coming from? There is one other visible industry, a supermax prison run by the brother of the handsome, straight-shooting sheriff, but that doesn’t explain the prosperity. Stone begins to nose around the place, running up against numerous unsavory characters, saving lives when possible, getting mad when not, dodging the usual falling safes until his probing causes him to wake up buried alive in a dead coal mine. There is a dalliance with Abby, but the evil feds close in on Stone so it is necessary for his Camel Club cohorts to dig him out in the end.

Tighter than the writer’s most recent efforts, but far from spellbinding.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-446-19550-8

Page Count: 394

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2008

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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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King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

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THE INSTITUTE

The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie.

Tim Jamieson is a man emphatically not in a hurry. As King’s (The Outsider, 2018, etc.) latest opens, he’s bargaining with a flight attendant to sell his seat on an overbooked run from Tampa to New York. His pockets full, he sticks out his thumb and winds up in the backwater South Carolina town of DuPray (should we hear echoes of “pray”? Or “depraved”?). Turns out he’s a decorated cop, good at his job and at reading others (“You ought to go see Doc Roper,” he tells a local. “There are pills that will brighten your attitude”). Shift the scene to Minneapolis, where young Luke Ellis, precociously brilliant, has been kidnapped by a crack extraction team, his parents brutally murdered so that it looks as if he did it. Luke is spirited off to Maine—this is King, so it’s got to be Maine—and a secret shadow-government lab where similarly conscripted paranormally blessed kids, psychokinetic and telepathic, are made to endure the Skinnerian pain-and-reward methods of the evil Mrs. Sigsby. How to bring the stories of Tim and Luke together? King has never minded detours into the unlikely, but for this one, disbelief must be extra-willingly suspended. In the end, their forces joined, the two and their redneck allies battle the sophisticated secret agents of The Institute in a bloodbath of flying bullets and beams of mental energy (“You’re in the south now, Annie had told these gunned-up interlopers. She had an idea they were about to find out just how true that was"). It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps.

King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-1056-7

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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