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

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


The story is sadly familiar, the treatment claustrophobically intense.

Twenty years after Chloe Davis’ father was convicted of killing half a dozen young women, someone seems to be celebrating the anniversary by extending the list.

No one in little Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, was left untouched by Richard Davis’ confession, least of all his family members. His wife, Mona, tried to kill herself and has been incapacitated ever since. His son, Cooper, became so suspicious that even now it’s hard for him to accept pharmaceutical salesman Daniel Briggs, whose sister, Sophie, also vanished 20 years ago, as Chloe’s fiance. And Chloe’s own nightmares, which lead her to rebuff New York Times reporter Aaron Jansen, who wants to interview her for an anniversary story, are redoubled when her newest psychiatric patient, Lacey Deckler, follows the path of high school student Aubrey Gravino by disappearing and then turning up dead. The good news is that Dick Davis, whom Chloe has had no contact with ever since he was imprisoned after his confession, obviously didn’t commit these new crimes. The bad news is that someone else did, someone who knows a great deal about the earlier cases, someone who could be very close to Chloe indeed. First-timer Willingham laces her first-person narrative with a stifling sense of victimhood that extends even to the survivors and a series of climactic revelations, at least some of which are guaranteed to surprise the most hard-bitten readers.

The story is sadly familiar, the treatment claustrophobically intense.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-2508-0382-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2021


Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

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. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020