If the build-up landed like the fadeout, this one would be headed for Hollywood. Alas, it’s not a wrap.

CLEA’S MOON

Debut thriller about an ex-cowboy movie star who earns his spurs in real life.

Former newspaper editor Wright starts with all the right details for another tale of crime in post–WWII Los Angeles: men splash on Old Spice, drive DeSotos, and complain about movies “where it’s so danged dark you can’t see who’s who . . . . ” But when Scotty Bullard pulls pornographic pictures from his late father’s desk drawer, it’s clear Wright has reached for a noir plot canard. Little that follows dispels this sense of the routine, especially as the sometimes-sharp 1940s particulars dissipate, never delivering on their initial promise. Bullard shows the pictures to John Ray Horn, a washed-up star of B-westerns who’s just served a prison sentence for felony assault. The pictures disturb Horn: They show hooded men fondling four- and five-year old girls, one of them being Horn’s stepdaughter Clea, now 16. Horn turns to his ex-wife Iris, Clea’s mother. Iris insists the shots are not of Clea. Then Scotty’s dead body turns up outside his office window. Did he fall? Was he pushed? Does someone want the pictures? Might they also want Clea, who, Iris informs Horn, has just disappeared? One of Clea’s friends leads Horn to a bar where Clea’s bad-news boyfriend hangs out. When Horn approaches the man outside the bar, another thug works over Horn. Quickly connecting the dots (and lowering the tension), Horn learns his assailant was a stuntman with ties to the child molesters. Horn then finds Clea’s boyfriend brutally shot and rescues a sullen Clea. He and his movie co-star, Joseph Mad Crow, team for a showdown with the killers. A scene as touching as it is sentimental caps the last reel.

If the build-up landed like the fadeout, this one would be headed for Hollywood. Alas, it’s not a wrap.

Pub Date: May 5, 2003

ISBN: 0-399-15047-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be...

BADLANDS

Box takes another break from his highly successful Joe Pickett series (Stone Cold, 2014, etc.) for a stand-alone about a police detective, a developmentally delayed boy, and a package everyone in North Dakota wants to grab.

Cassandra Dewell can’t leave Montana’s Lewis and Clark County fast enough for her new job as chief investigator for Jon Kirkbride, sheriff of Bakken County. She leaves behind no memories worth keeping: her husband is dead, her boss has made no bones about disliking her, and she’s looking forward to new responsibilities and the higher salary underwritten by North Dakota’s sudden oil boom. But Bakken County has its own issues. For one thing, it’s cold—a whole lot colder than the coldest weather Cassie’s ever imagined. For another, the job she turns out to have been hired for—leading an investigation her new boss doesn’t feel he can entrust to his own force—makes her queasy. The biggest problem, though, is one she doesn’t know about until it slaps her in the face. A fatal car accident that was anything but accidental has jarred loose a stash of methamphetamines and cash that’s become the center of a battle between the Sons of Freedom, Bakken County’s traditional drug sellers, and MS-13, the Salvadorian upstarts who are muscling in on their territory. It’s a setup that leaves scant room for law enforcement officers or for Kyle Westergaard, the 12-year-old paperboy damaged since birth by fetal alcohol syndrome, who’s walked away from the wreck with a prize all too many people would kill for.

A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be welcome to return and tie up the gaping loose end Box leaves. The unrelenting cold makes this the perfect beach read.

Pub Date: July 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-58321-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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