While dealing with family issues, personal demons and office politics, Special Agent Jake Shaunessey and fellow Drug Enforcement Administration agents try to track down the elusive kingpins of a Minneapolis-area heroin network.

The characters in Nelson’s first novel might be found on an action-packed cop show: hard-boiled, hyperdedicated good guys vs. diabolical bad guys with no redeeming qualities. In a conversational style, Nelson—himself a DEA veteran—writes with the banter and gallows humor of men and women who constantly face danger: One of Jake’s co-workers “could handle herself quite well in the office, thank you.” (If anything, the good guys might be a little too good.) The agents pursue a series of leads from sketchy informants, conduct dangerous raids, sustain casualties and flip small-time dealers in an uphill battle through the drug ring’s chain of command. Along the way, the agents’ dedication earns them problems with spouses and censure from their boss, Alan Ravich, a self-interested political animal. The other side of the crime coin is inhabited by a number of lowlife, conscience-free dirtbags. Top kingpin Big Al not only heads the drug ring, but keeps his minions in line via a satanic cult, conducting hallucinogen-fueled ceremonies in which young kidnapped girls are sacrificed: “Phantoms embraced the physical features of Al. Some saw horns on Al’s head. Some envisioned him with a long tail.” In fact, some of the bad guys make more interesting characters than the agents. For instance, Big Al’s psychology degree enables him to control fragile personalities. Tanya, his psychotic sidekick who’s fond of slitting throats, has dual dominant/submissive personalities; Big Al manipulates her by taking advantage of her daddy issues. Eddie, a drug importer, demonstrates a hint of conscience that comes into play at the end; and then there are the twins, Lonnie and Donnie, incompetent junky burglars whose antics lend dark comic relief. When things finally fall into place for the agents, the action ramps up to an exciting, satisfying denouement. Hits all the targets for fans of police drama.


Pub Date: April 26, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4825-6116-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

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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. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Joe’s fifth case is his best balanced, most deeply felt and most mystifying to date: an absolute must.


Crime-fighting Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett outdoes himself during a temporary transfer from sleepy Saddlestring to fashionable Jackson Hole.

Will Jensen, the Jackson game warden, was a great guy and a model warden, but once his wife left him six months ago, he spiraled into madness and suicide, and now Joe’s been called to replace him. The transition is anything but smooth. There’s no question of Joe’s family coming with him, so he’s reduced to hoping he can get a signal for the cell-phone calls he squeezes into his busy schedule. En route to his new posting, Joe has to pursue a marauding grizzly. He arrives to meet a formidable series of challenges. Cantankerous outfitter Smoke Van Horn wants to go on attracting elk with illegal salt licks without the new warden’s interference. Animal Liberation Network activist Pi Stevenson wants him to publicize her cause and adopt a vegan diet. Developer Don Ennis wants to open a housing development for millionaires who like their meat free of additives. Ennis’s trophy wife Stella simply wants Joe—and he wants her back. As he wrestles with these demands, and with a supervisor riled over Joe’s track record of destroying government property in pursuit of bad guys (Trophy Hunt, 2004, etc.), Joe slowly becomes convinced that Will did not kill himself.

Joe’s fifth case is his best balanced, most deeply felt and most mystifying to date: an absolute must.

Pub Date: May 5, 2005

ISBN: 0-399-15291-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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