This novel scores big not because of its mystery but due to its pregnant protagonist and her inexorable fortitude.

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FALSE PROPHET

In Banta’s (The Girls from Fourth Ward, 2012) second murder mystery to feature detective Matt Ryan, the murder of a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may lead to a killer within the church.

When Brother Dooley is found beaten to death in Abbottsville, Calif., people immediately suspect Bishop Paul Zimmerman; after all, he was at the scene holding the murder weapon. But Lt. Ryan, who’d previously worked a murder case involving members of the same congregation, has his doubts, as does the bishop’s pregnant wife, Carrie. Both Ryan and Carrie look into the murder, which might have ties to the church’s support of Proposition 8, which sought to outlaw gay marriage in California. Banta’s novel, which sometimes alludes to her previous work, is presented from two perspectives: Ryan’s first-person narration and Carrie’s third-person. The dual viewpoints tend to emphasize, with tongue firmly in cheek, the differences between churchgoers and non: Carrie’s “Oh my heck” and her sex suggestion from a magazine found at a hair salon versus Ryan’s decidedly colorful language and his meeting informants at their porn shop. The book is often blatantly critical of Mormonism, from its opposition to same-sex marriage to Carrie having to quit her job and become a mother full time after Paul is appointed bishop. Carrie’s recurring thought, “I love being a Mormon,” can come across as a bit derisive and cynical, even if she’s unaware of its effect. The investigation side of the mystery is occasionally skimmed, and it’s not always clear how Ryan or Carrie reach their deductions, especially since they investigate separately but manage to zero in on the same suspect. Carrie’s amateur sleuthing, however, results in the novel’s best sequence: A pregnant prowler, in her third trimester and clad all in black, she doesn’t creep into a crime scene—she waddles. This type of lighthearted but rewarding humor is retained even when Carrie is working with Ryan: During an unofficial undercover gig, he mistakes the expectant mother’s desperate need for a bathroom break as trepidation.

This novel scores big not because of its mystery but due to its pregnant protagonist and her inexorable fortitude.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2013

ISBN: 978-1492732211

Page Count: 230

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 14, 2014

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The most over-the-top of Horowitz’s frantically overplotted whodunits to date—and that’s no mean feat.

MOONFLOWER MURDERS

Susan Ryeland, the book editor who retired to Crete after solving the mind-boggling mysteries of Magpie Murders (2017), is enticed to England to try her hand at another Chinese box of a case.

Eight years ago, the wedding weekend of Cecily Treherne and Aiden MacNeil at Branlow Hall, the high-end Suffolk hotel the bride’s parents owned, was ruined by the murder of Frank Parris, a hotel guest and advertising man who just happened to be passing through. Romanian-born maintenance man Stefan Codrescu was promptly convicted of the crime and has been in prison ever since. But Cecily’s recent disappearance shortly after having told her parents she’d become certain Stefan was innocent drives Lawrence and Pauline Treherne to find Susan in Crete, where they offer her 10,000 pounds to solve the mystery again and better. Susan’s the perfect candidate because she worked closely with late author Alan Conway, whose third novel, Atticus Pünd Takes the Case, contained the unspecified evidence that convinced Cecily that Detective Superintendent Richard Locke, now DCS Locke, had made a mistake. Checking into Branlow Hall and interviewing Cecily’s hostile sister, Lisa, and several hotel staffers who were on the scene eight years ago tells Susan all too little. So she turns to Atticus Pünd Takes the Case, whose unabridged reproduction occupies the middle third of Horowitz’s novel, and finds that it offers all too much in the way of possible clues, red herrings, analogies, anagrams, and easter eggs. The novel within a novel is so extensive and absorbing on its own, in fact, that all but the brainiest armchair detectives are likely to find it a serious distraction from the mystery to which it’s supposed to offer the key.

The most over-the-top of Horowitz’s frantically overplotted whodunits to date—and that’s no mean feat.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06295-545-6

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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Slow moving and richly layered.

THE SEARCHER

A retired cop takes one last case in this stand-alone novel from the creator of the Dublin Murder Squad.

Originally from North Carolina, Cal Hooper has spent the last 30 years in Chicago. “A small place. A small town in a small country”: That’s what he’s searching for when he moves to the West of Ireland. His daughter is grown, his wife has left him, so Cal is on his own—until a kid named Trey starts hanging around. Trey’s brother is missing. Everyone believes that Brendan has run off just like his father did, but Trey thinks there’s more to the story than just another young man leaving his family behind in search of money and excitement in the city. Trey wants the police detective who just emigrated from America to find out what’s really happened to Brendan. French is deploying a well-worn trope here—in fact, she’s deploying a few. Cal is a new arrival to an insular community, and he’s about to discover that he didn’t leave crime and violence behind when he left the big city. Cal is a complex enough character, though, and it turns out that the mystery he’s trying to solve is less shocking than what he ultimately discovers. French's latest is neither fast-paced nor action-packed, and it has as much to do with Cal’s inner life as it does with finding Brendan. Much of what mystery readers are looking for in terms of action is squeezed into the last third of the novel, and the morally ambiguous ending may be unsatisfying for some. But French’s fans have surely come to expect imperfect allegiance to genre conventions, and the author does, ultimately, deliver plenty of twists, shocking revelations, and truly chilling moments.

Slow moving and richly layered.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-73-522465-0

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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