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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King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

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THE INSTITUTE

The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie.

Tim Jamieson is a man emphatically not in a hurry. As King’s (The Outsider, 2018, etc.) latest opens, he’s bargaining with a flight attendant to sell his seat on an overbooked run from Tampa to New York. His pockets full, he sticks out his thumb and winds up in the backwater South Carolina town of DuPray (should we hear echoes of “pray”? Or “depraved”?). Turns out he’s a decorated cop, good at his job and at reading others (“You ought to go see Doc Roper,” he tells a local. “There are pills that will brighten your attitude”). Shift the scene to Minneapolis, where young Luke Ellis, precociously brilliant, has been kidnapped by a crack extraction team, his parents brutally murdered so that it looks as if he did it. Luke is spirited off to Maine—this is King, so it’s got to be Maine—and a secret shadow-government lab where similarly conscripted paranormally blessed kids, psychokinetic and telepathic, are made to endure the Skinnerian pain-and-reward methods of the evil Mrs. Sigsby. How to bring the stories of Tim and Luke together? King has never minded detours into the unlikely, but for this one, disbelief must be extra-willingly suspended. In the end, their forces joined, the two and their redneck allies battle the sophisticated secret agents of The Institute in a bloodbath of flying bullets and beams of mental energy (“You’re in the south now, Annie had told these gunned-up interlopers. She had an idea they were about to find out just how true that was"). It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps.

King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-1056-7

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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