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A vivid and earnest story about the terrible ways children can be violated that lacks fully developed characters.

A novel examines unspeakable crimes, consequences, and punishments affecting children and young teens in an Arizona barrio.

Madison Elementary School Principal Samantha Ryan fights for justice, not just for her two adopted daughters, victims of sexual and physical abuse, but also for her students and other children who encounter bullying and mistreatment while attending class. Set over a three-day period, this story covers Sam’s testimony against a murderous pedophile and details what happens when the accused goes on a rampage in the courtroom. It also addresses Sam’s efforts to stop the abuse a gang of teenagers inflicts on her older, already traumatized daughter at her middle school (the culprits even post videos of their actions), and how Sam’s involvement in these matters affects her marriage. Topics woven into the tale include violent classroom bullying, the effects of postpartum depression on infant development, sexual predation of children, and parental responsibilities (“There are signs that parents need to watch for....For example, if someone gives your child gifts, extra attention, affection, and spends time with her or him frequently, parents should consider that as a strong clue that something might be going on. And the parents need to be vigilant”). This book is the fourth installment in The Old Pueblo series by Hart (Finding Justice, 2015, etc.). Although Sam’s dedication to righting the wrongs she encounters is made abundantly clear, the book is overlong, with the narrative slowed by unnecessary recaps and digressions on subjects like sudden infant death syndrome and gluten allergy. Shifts in point of view and the large cast of characters make the story hard to track at times, and dialogue often reads like an interrogation, even outside the courtroom. In particular, some sections of children’s dialogue don’t ring true, as when a 5-year-old says, “Thank you for saying that, Gram.” Some principal characters need more development; the villains are monsters with insufficient motivations presented for their evildoing, while Sam and her husband are almost too good to be true. On one level, this book, which is not for the faint of heart, works as a public service message, a wake-up call to parents about what their children could experience if left unprotected. While the author bravely tackles serious subjects that need illuminating, a subtler approach would get the message across more effectively.

A vivid and earnest story about the terrible ways children can be violated that lacks fully developed characters.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5377-0337-4

Page Count: 428

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2016

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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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