Historical cloak-and-dagger with only a quiet spark.

THE QUEEN OF WASHINGTON

This exhaustively researched historical fiction examines Civil War–era spies and geopolitics.

Hamit’s (Shenandoah Spy, 2008) second novel focuses on the life and career of Mrs. Rose Greenhow, a rich 19th-century widow whose services as a spy may have gone beyond her years of work for the Confederacy—she may have also been in the pay of British and French intelligence. The story provides impressive period atmosphere and painstakingly researched details of Greenhow’s life in the 1850s and ’60s, as she exerts an invisible influence over the Mexican War and then builds a mostly female spy ring for the South. Some consideration is given to her marriage and personal life, though it’s generally overshadowed by the larger business to which she’s dedicated. Hamit steers clear of larger-than-life historical figures in his invention, making better use of famed detective/spy Allan Pinkerton and his agency. This is fitting, as the book maintains a sense of grave seriousness and devotion to truth, which the random appearances of colorful characters would diminish. Even the opening pages include a grim prison photograph of the real Mrs. Greenhow and her young daughter, cementing the truth-in-fiction tone. Along with the author’s first novel, the story of Rose Greenhow is meant to be part of a massive “super-novel” that will amount to a broad portrait of the era. The text’s conclusion accounts for the arrangement, but it’s also distracting. There’s a sense that this is only a chapter taken out of another story, as if some of the super-novel’s energy is held in reserve for other volumes. The skulduggery is scrupulously realistic, yet as a result, it can sometimes lack verve. Poetic license is exercised but always with the greatest economy.

Historical cloak-and-dagger with only a quiet spark.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-1595951717

Page Count: 309

Publisher: Brass Cannon Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2012

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Enjoyable storytelling by two masters of the craft.

22 SECONDS

Lindsay Boxer faces a ton of trouble in the latest entry in Patterson and Paetro’s Women’s Murder Club series.

Senior crime reporter Cindy Thomas is writing a biography of Evan Burke, a notorious serial killer who sits in solitary confinement in San Quentin. She’s kidnapped by thugs wanting her to talk about her best friend, Lindsay Boxer, who’s an SFPD homicide detective and the story’s main character. San Francisco has a restrictive new gun law, and gun-totin’ folks everywhere have their boxer shorts in a twist. A national resistance movement has formed—Defenders of the Second—whose motto is “We will not comply.” They find it outrageous that the new law makes it illegal to own a gun that can kill 50 people with a single clip. Meanwhile, lots of bodies show up: A young girl disappears and is later found dead in a ditch, and ex-cops are found dead with their lips stapled shut and “You talk, you die” written on their foreheads. An inmate is found hanged in prison. And “a massive but unspecified load of military-style weaponry was en route from Mexico to the City by the Bay.” In a “frustrating, multipronged case,” there’s a harrowing shootout memorialized in a video showing “twenty-two of the scariest seconds” of Boxer’s life. She’s an appealing series hero with loving family and friends, but she may arrive at a crossroads where she has “to choose between my work and [my] baby girl.” The formulaic story has unmemorable writing, but it’s entertaining and well told. You probably won’t have to worry about the main characters, who have thus far survived 21 adventures. Except for the little girl, you can expect people to get what they deserve. It's relatively mild as crime novels go, but the women characters are serious, strong, and admirable.

Enjoyable storytelling by two masters of the craft.

Pub Date: May 2, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-49937-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

DREAM TOWN

An old-fashioned gumshoe yarn about Hollywood dreams and dead bodies.

Private investigator Aloysius Archer celebrates New Year’s Eve 1952 in LA with his gorgeous lady friend and aspiring actress Liberty Callahan. Screenwriter Eleanor Lamb shows up and offers to hire him because “someone might be trying to kill me.” “I’m fifty a day plus expenses,” he replies, but money’s no obstacle. Later, he sneaks into Lamb’s house and stumbles upon a body, then gets knocked out by an unseen assailant. Archer takes plenty of physical abuse in the story, but at least he doesn’t get a bullet between the eyes like the guy he trips over. A 30-year-old World War II combat veteran, Archer is a righteous and brave hero. Luck and grit keep him alive in both Vegas and the City of Angels, which is rife with gangsters and crooked cops. Not rich at all, his one luxury is the blood-red 1939 Delahaye he likes to drive with the top down. He’d bought it with his gambling winnings in Reno, and only a bullet hole in the windscreen post mars its perfection. Liberty loves Archer, but will she put up with the daily danger of losing him? Why doesn’t he get a safe job, maybe playing one of LA’s finest on the hit TV show Dragnet? Instead, he’s a tough and principled idealist who wants to make the world a better place. Either that or he’s simply a “pavement-pounding PI on a slow dance to maybe nowhere.” And if some goon doesn’t do him in sooner, his Lucky Strikes will probably do him in later. Baldacci paints a vivid picture of the not-so-distant era when everybody smoked, Joe McCarthy hunted commies, and Marilyn Monroe stirred men’s loins. The 1950s weren’t the fabled good old days, but they’re fodder for gritty crime stories of high ideals and lowlifes, of longing and disappointment, and all the trouble a PI can handle.

Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

Pub Date: April 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5387-1977-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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