After so much loopy plotting and Heartland folks, the slam-bang militia madness comes on a bit too furious. Harstad’s...

THE BIG THAW

Plenty of laughs, skewed violence, and marvelous takes on how weird Iowa winters can be—in the third, and best, procedural featuring easygoing Nation County Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman (Known Dead, 1999, etc.), from a former Iowa deputy sheriff who knows the territory inside out.

While he’s digging stuttering small-town crook Fred “Goober” Grothler out of the snow, Houseman hears Goober confess to having driven the getaway car for his no-good cousins. Seems Dirk and Royce Colson have been robbing farmhouses while their owners are away playing pinochle in sunny Florida. But the boys have been missing for two days since they broke into Cletus Borglan’s place. Poking around the snowbound farmhouse, Houseman finds evidence of a break-in and the frozen bodies of the Colson cousins out in the shed, both sporting bullet holes in their heads. When an incompetent investigator tries to pin the crime on Fred, Houseman does more checking and ends up busting two mysterious FBI agents. The cranky, blustering Borglan rushes home from Florida but loses his lunch when Houseman drags him in for questioning. After a lunatic sniper shoots up the front of the sheriff’s office, Borglan confesses that he’s been consorting with Jacob Henry Nieuhauser, a.k.a Gabriel, a crazed ex-Army colonel militia type who had been living secretly in Borghlan’s house and who killed the Colsons. Gabriel needs money to buy some nasty new weapons, and he plans to steal it by hijacking a riverboat casino where state cop Hester Gorse, Houseman’s investigative partner in the previous books, just happens to be on shift.

After so much loopy plotting and Heartland folks, the slam-bang militia madness comes on a bit too furious. Harstad’s strength is in the wry and dry details of a cop’s life, and in his unbending compassion for deceptively plain people who cast long shadows in the subzero snow.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-385-49569-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2000

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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