A promising concept flattened by overdevelopment and inattention to nuance. Maybe next time.


Racial inequality inspires a complex revenge plot in this sprawling first novel from Brooklyn law professor Troutt (stories: The Monkey Suit, 1998, etc.).

It’s set in 1990s Harlem, where three luckless black citizens drift into an “investment club” that offers a chance to “take back” opportunities denied them by a complacent white power structure. Late-30ish single mom Sidarra is frustrated by her second-class status at the “Board of Miseducation” where she suffers demotions and pay cuts as unqualified white coworkers rise to the top, and by a stalled relationship with her underachieving boyfriend Michael, a subway token booth vendor. Griff Coleman, an overworked public defender for (usually guilty) poor black clients, is fed up with the arrogance of a legal system that disrespects him, and by his wife Belinda, a successful investment banker who taunts him for not making more of himself. Yakoob Jones, meanwhile, a comedian moonlighting as a computer programmer, wants to stick it to whites-only power structures that scarcely acknowledge his existence. The solution: the Cicero Dean Investment Club, which “target[s]…major player[s] in the black people humiliation business,” employing carefully orchestrated credit-card fraud, identity theft and nonexistent (‘dummy’) corporations to purchase majority stock and engage in interstate commerce funded by stolen money. It works—until the inclusion of violence-prone drug dealer Raul raises stakes alarmingly, and the Club’s pyramid of profits comes tumbling down. This overstuffed novel nevertheless earns good marks for its nifty premise, crisp dialogue and well-handled plot. But it’s overdrawn. The same grievances are repeatedly aired, the same points hammered home incessantly. And when smoldering Sidarra and Adonis-like Griff tumble from collusion into the sack, Troutt succumbs to romance-novel rapture (“He wandered over her magnificence in search of thresholds to cross”).

A promising concept flattened by overdevelopment and inattention to nuance. Maybe next time.

Pub Date: May 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-06-078929-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2007

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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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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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