Instead of sharing the hero’s fears, fans of Westlake’s Dortmunder series, which got started around the same time with The...

HELP I AM BEING HELD PRISONER

Westlake, nine years dead but still enjoying a very productive season (Forever and a Death, 2017), returns in a bright reprint from 1974 that shows him working the field in which he remains unrivaled: the comic caper in which Murphy’s law reigns supreme.

A practical joke gone wrong got Harold Künt five to 15 years in upstate New York’s Stonevelt Penitentiary. Even though he can’t control his compulsion to play jokes on everyone he can reach, Harry also wants to keep his head down, do his time, and return to society. Not happening. He stumbles on a group of seven cons who’ve commandeered an undiscovered tunnel, not to break out of the prison, but to leave one or two at a clip on self-appointed thefts and furloughs and return before they’re discovered. It’s nice to be back in the outside world, especially among oblivious citizens who call Harry “Harry Kent.” But it’s not so nice to hear that Phil Giffin, Joe Wheeler, Max Nolan, and the rest of the gang plan to break out just long enough to rob not one, but two banks, Fiduciary Federal Trust and Western National, taking advantage of the fact that they all have the ultimate alibi. The thought of pulling off a robbery gives Harry the willies; every single way he can imagine the plot ending looks disastrous. Nor can he pull out of the heist his fellow prisoners have generously allowed him to buy into without arousing their suspicions. Worst of all, Harry’s reputation has convinced Warden Eustace B. Gadmore that he’s the one who keeps working signs announcing “HELP I AM BEING HELD PRISONER” into preposterously unlikely settings, and it’s only a matter of time before the warden lowers the boom.

Instead of sharing the hero’s fears, fans of Westlake’s Dortmunder series, which got started around the same time with The Hot Rock (1970), will appreciate the author’s consummate blending of comedy and suspense, often within the same sentence, and rejoice that more Westlakes are slated for resurrection.

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-78565-682-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Hard Case Crime

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 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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Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless...

SPLIT SECOND

Two defrocked Secret Service Agents investigate the assassination of one presidential candidate and the kidnapping of another.

Baldacci (The Christmas Train, 2002, etc.) sets out with two plot strands. The first begins when something distracts Secret Service Agent Sean King and during that “split second,” presidential candidate Clyde Ritter is shot dead. King takes out the killer, but that’s not enough to save his reputation with the Secret Service. He retires and goes on to do often tedious but nonetheless always lucrative work (much like a legal thriller such as this) at a law practice. Plot two begins eight years later when another Secret Service Agent, Michelle Maxwell, lets presidential candidate John Bruno out of her sight for a few minutes at a wake for one of his close associates. He goes missing. Now Maxwell, too, gets in dutch with the SS. Though separated by time, the cases are similar and leave several questions unanswered. What distracted King at the rally? Bruno had claimed his friend’s widow called him to the funeral home. The widow (one of the few characters here to have any life) says she never called Bruno. Who set him up? Who did a chambermaid at Ritter’s hotel blackmail? And who is the man in the Buick shadowing King’s and Maxwell’s every move? King is a handsome, rich divorce, Maxwell an attractive marathon runner. Will they join forces and find each other kind of, well, appealing? But of course. The two former agents traverse the countryside, spinning endless hypotheses before the onset, at last, of a jerrybuilt conclusion that begs credibility and offers few surprises.

Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless concoction.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2003

ISBN: 0-446-53089-1

Page Count: 406

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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