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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Joe’s fifth case is his best balanced, most deeply felt and most mystifying to date: an absolute must.

OUT OF RANGE

Crime-fighting Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett outdoes himself during a temporary transfer from sleepy Saddlestring to fashionable Jackson Hole.

Will Jensen, the Jackson game warden, was a great guy and a model warden, but once his wife left him six months ago, he spiraled into madness and suicide, and now Joe’s been called to replace him. The transition is anything but smooth. There’s no question of Joe’s family coming with him, so he’s reduced to hoping he can get a signal for the cell-phone calls he squeezes into his busy schedule. En route to his new posting, Joe has to pursue a marauding grizzly. He arrives to meet a formidable series of challenges. Cantankerous outfitter Smoke Van Horn wants to go on attracting elk with illegal salt licks without the new warden’s interference. Animal Liberation Network activist Pi Stevenson wants him to publicize her cause and adopt a vegan diet. Developer Don Ennis wants to open a housing development for millionaires who like their meat free of additives. Ennis’s trophy wife Stella simply wants Joe—and he wants her back. As he wrestles with these demands, and with a supervisor riled over Joe’s track record of destroying government property in pursuit of bad guys (Trophy Hunt, 2004, etc.), Joe slowly becomes convinced that Will did not kill himself.

Joe’s fifth case is his best balanced, most deeply felt and most mystifying to date: an absolute must.

Pub Date: May 5, 2005

ISBN: 0-399-15291-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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