Top-drawer Harstad, full of really cool dialogue.

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A LONG DECEMBER

With 26 years as an Iowa police officer behind him, the retired Harstad handles his procedurals with absolute authority and his rural Nation County, Iowa, characters with a dry wittiness.

Here, in his fifth Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman thriller (Code Sixty-One, 2002), one can spot what looks like an editorial hand at work in the opening fifty pages when a very long, slow, but amusing crime scene investigation, aflood with ritual detail, is livened up with interchapters woven from the much later big shootout with a wild gang of terrorists. Carl (55, six foot three, 280 pounds) and his DCI buddy Hester Gorse are called to investigate an execution-style homicide near a deep-country farm: the victim has been shotgunned from behind, with most of his head between the ears scooped out and now fanning the gravel. There’s a lot to discuss about this crime scene, and as County Medical Examiner Henry Zimmer and the ambulance crew and Carl’s surly boss Lamar arrive, it’s old home week for Harstad fans. Is the crime drug-related? (The county, with its big new kosher meat-processing plant and influx of immigrants, now floats 18 different European tongues and weird-sounding varieties of Spanish.) The dead man turns out to be a plant worker but not the Mexican he pretended to be; he was Colombian, dealt in meth, and had some very, very bad friends. The day he dies the plant closes for a few days because its many illegal alien workers fear deportation. Soon a second plant worker dies of ricin poisoning: Were those Zionist pigs Hester and Carl poisoned as well? The two end up trapped in a barn surrounded by terrorists lobbing grenades at them. Meanwhile, red tape (this is actually a federal case) imperils their safety amid the explosions.

Top-drawer Harstad, full of really cool dialogue.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-59071-013-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Rugged Land

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2003

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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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Creepy, violent, and propulsive; a standout gothic mystery.

THINGS IN JARS

Lady detective Bridie Devine searches for a missing child and finds much more than she bargained for.

Bridie Devine is no stranger to the seedy underworld of Victorian London. An accomplished detective with medical training, she sometimes helps the police by examining bodies to determine the cause of death. Bridie recently failed to find a lost child, and when she’s approached about another missing child, the daughter of Sir Edmund Berwick, she isn’t enthusiastic about taking on the case. But Christabel Berwick is no ordinary child. Sir Edmund has hidden Christabel away her whole life and wants Bridie to believe this is an ordinary kidnapping. Bridie does a little digging and learns that Christabel isn’t his daughter so much as his prized specimen. Sir Edmund believes Christabel is a “merrow,” a darker and less romanticized version of a mermaid. Bridie is skeptical, but there are reports of Christabel’s sharp teeth, color-changing eyes, and ability to drown people on dry land. Given that Bridie’s new companion is a ghost who refuses to tell her why he’s haunting her, Bridie might want to open her mind a bit. There’s a lot going on in this singular novel, and none of it pretty. Bridie’s London is soaked with mud and blood, and her past is nightmarish at best. Kidd (Mr. Flood’s Last Resort, 2018, etc.) is an expert at setting a supernatural mood perfect for ghosts and merrows, but her human villains make them seem mundane by comparison. With so much detail and so many clever, Dickensian characters, readers might petition Kidd to give Bridie her own series.

Creepy, violent, and propulsive; a standout gothic mystery.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-2128-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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