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

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING DANGEROUS

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 20, 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.

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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POP GOES THE WEASEL

After a flight in fantasy with When the Wind Blows (1998), Patterson goes to ground with another slash-and-squirm psychokiller page-turner, this one dedicated to “the millions of Alex Cross readers, who so frequently ask, can’t you write faster?” By day, Geoffrey Shafer is a charming, 42-year-old British Embassy paper-pusher with a picture-perfect family and a shady past as an MI-6 secret agent. Come sundown, he swallows a pharmacy of psychoactive pills, gulps three black coffees loaded with sugar, and roams the streets of Washington, D.C., in a battered cab, where, disguised as a black man, he rolls dice to determine which among his black female fares he—ll murder. Afterwards he dumps his naked victims in crime-infested back alleys of black- slum neighborhoods, then sends e-mails boasting of his accomplishments to three other former MI-6 agents involved in a hellish Internet role-playing game. “I sensed I was at the start of another homicide mess,” sighs forensic-psychologist turned homicide-detective Alex Cross. Cross yearns to catch the “Jane Doe murderer” but is thwarted by Det. Chief George Pittman, who assigns sexy Det. Patsy Hampton to investigate Cross and come up with a reason for dismissing him. Meanwhile, Cross’s fiancÇe is kidnaped during a Bermuda vacation, and an anonymous e-mail warns him to back off. He doesn’t, of course, and just when it appears that Patterson is sleep-walking through his story, Cross nabs Shafer minutes after Shafer kills Det. Hampton. During the subsequent high-visibility trail, Shafer manages to make the jury believe that he’s innocent and that Cross was trying to frame him. When all seems lost, a sympathetic British intelligence chief offers to help Cross bring down Shafer, and the other homicidal game-players, during a showdown on the breezy beaches of Jamaica. Kinky mayhem, a cartoonish villain, regular glimpses of the kindly Cross caring for his loved ones, and an ending that spells a sequel: Patterson’s fans couldn’t ask for more.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-69328-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1999

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