In the end, the surprisingly intricate murder plot feels grafted onto the heartfelt evocation of the Texas town.

MUSKRAT HILL

A mysterious woman’s request for an interview sends a country musician down a long road of reminiscences to the hometown nearly torn apart by a murderer during his boyhood.

No one can identify the young woman whose corpse Kittrell Robertson and his best friend, Whitey Collins, find on a quiet riverbank. But everyone can see that she’s been killed with exceptional ferocity, her breast and ear slashed off after she was bashed to death. Half-Comanche Muskrat Hill marshal Asa Jenkins, feeling out past his depth, naturally turns to Kit’s father for help. Pope Robertson was a famous Texas Ranger before he retired and opened a grocery store, and Jenkins thinks that underneath all that white hair, Robertson’s still got the brains and the tenacity to find the murderer. Before that happens, though, there’ll be two major complications. One is the arrival of Clara Grace, an eccentric cousin of Kit’s mother, Dolly, whose other cousins, Willie Mae and Ralph, have shipped her to Muskrat Hill because they got tired of minding her themselves. Five minutes with Clara Grace, a staunch Catholic with a passion for spreading the word and a lack of social filters that allows her to speak her mind about Baptists, Methodists, and anyone else who looks at her sideways, will make readers deeply sympathetic toward Ralph and Willie Mae. While Dolly does her best to parade possible mates before the uninterested Clara Grace, the second complication unfolds: The killer continues to strike. Inoffensive butcher Oscar Sorenson is gutted and hanged upside down; Miss Maydell, at 30 the town’s old maid, is strangled in an outhouse; and more victims will follow. Jackson (A Season in Hell, 2019, etc.) spends less time on Robertson’s hunt for likely suspects than on limning the town’s rhythms and rituals, goading Robertson’s exasperated outburst: “We have a vicious, crazed killer on the loose, and all I have is a houseful of people who couldn’t care less about it.”

In the end, the surprisingly intricate murder plot feels grafted onto the heartfelt evocation of the Texas town.

Pub Date: Feb. 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4328-6604-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Five Star/Gale Cengage

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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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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One protest from an outraged innocent says it all: “This is America. This is Wyoming.”

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LONG RANGE

Once again, Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett gets mixed up in a killing whose principal suspect is his old friend Nate Romanowski, whose attempts to live off the grid keep breaking down in a series of felony charges.

If Judge Hewitt hadn’t bent over to pick up a spoon that had fallen from his dinner table, the sniper set up nearly a mile from his house in the gated community of the Eagle Mountain Club would have ended his life. As it was, the victim was Sue Hewitt, leaving the judge alive and free to rail and threaten anyone he suspected of the shooting. Incoming Twelve Sleep County Sheriff Brendan Kapelow’s interest in using the case to promote his political ambitions and the judge’s inability to see further than his nose make them the perfect targets for a frame-up of Nate, who just wants to be left alone in the middle of nowhere to train his falcons and help his bride, Liv Brannon, raise their baby, Kestrel. Nor are the sniper, the sheriff, and the judge Nate’s only enemies. Orlando Panfile has been sent to Wyoming by the Sinaloan drug cartel to avenge the deaths of the four assassins whose careers Nate and Joe ended last time out (Wolf Pack, 2019). So it’s up to Joe, with some timely data from his librarian wife, Marybeth, to hire a lawyer for Nate, make sure he doesn’t bust out of jail before his trial, identify the real sniper, who continues to take an active role in the proceedings, and somehow protect him from a killer who regards Nate’s arrest as an unwelcome complication. That’s quite a tall order for someone who can’t shoot straight, who keeps wrecking his state-issued vehicles, and whose appalling mother-in-law, Missy Vankeuren Hand, has returned from her latest European jaunt to suck up all the oxygen in Twelve Sleep County to hustle some illegal drugs for her cancer-stricken sixth husband. But fans of this outstanding series will know better than to place their money against Joe.

One protest from an outraged innocent says it all: “This is America. This is Wyoming.”

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53823-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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