Recommended both as a suspenseful story and a cautionary tale of yielding to temptation.

LIFE MINUS 3 1/2

A TRUE STORY SURROUNDING THE EMBEZZLEMENT OF ELEVEN MILLION DOLLARS

A habitual gambler recounts a life of bad decisions in sports books and corporate embezzlement, and the effect it had on his family.

No one’s saying Dennis Hart had it easy. A father at 17 with an unstable girlfriend and bills to pay, he shelved his nascent college career to begin life in the working world. There—facing dire straits that many of us have encountered at one time or another—Hart gave in to the first of many opportunities to bend the law and profit while doing so. From there, despite his lack of formal training, Hart was skilled enough as an accountant to land jobs in numerous financial departments at mid-sized companies. When he and two colleagues began their own precious-metals company (and Hart began a separate travel agency), he developed the means and the structure to begin cashing illegal checks to support his gambling habit. His sports bets—and the Hollywood-named hustlers who are on his tail—continue to multiply while he draws money from his companies and conceals the misdeeds on the balance sheet. As Hart juggles this downward-spiraling mélange of family, lawyers, hustlers and hit men, Hart’s readers will feel the stress once corporate managers finally notice the balance sheet irregularities. The inherent suspense throughout contrasts well with Hart’s candid and effortless writing style; he recounts every mistake from a refreshingly honest and self-effacing perspective. What may strike readers most is the ultimately tragic nature of Hart’s story. A handsome, intelligent, charismatic man, he seemed to have the world at his feet. But a series of bad decisions and weakened resistance to temptation sent him down a path that twisted toward lifelong infamy. In a moment of bleak anguish, Hart describes his future wife agreeing to a first date with him: “It would prove to be the worst decision she ever made.” In the end, perhaps Hart’s greatest victory is keeping his wife, his dream of Florida and his readers on his side.

Recommended both as a suspenseful story and a cautionary tale of yielding to temptation.

Pub Date: Dec. 31, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Kurti Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2012

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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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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