An uneven but promising whodunit.

READ REVIEW

SCARLETT FIRE

In Chester’s debut mystery, a layout designer for a rather dull interior design magazine finds her life spiced up when she receives a mysterious email

Scarlett Reid receives a message in her work inbox from an address that she doesn’t recognize, and, for some reason, it catches her eye. The subject line (“Please read this story”) would prompt most people to toss it in the trash, but Scarlett is bored enough to take the bait. After opening the attached file—a rookie error in this day and age—she finds herself reading a journal from August 1987, written by someone named Kendra, who claims to have been at the scene of a young woman’s murder at a Grateful Dead concert. It becomes increasingly apparent that Scarlett may have a personal connection to the events that the diary describes. As the cryptic messages continue to arrive, Scarlett, with some help from her flighty work colleague Sophie Campbell, attempts to unravel the mystery of what looks very much like an unsolved serial-killer case—and to figure out what role she plays in the story. Chester’s novel gets more confident in tone as the narrative develops, and there’s some entertaining sleuthing from Scarlett and Sophie throughout. However, there are relatively few thrills, overall, and the only real sense of threat comes in the closing third. Much of the plot revolves around the pair’s tracking down people with ties to the elusive Kendra, which, though often engaging, feels like a prelude to a larger development that never arrives. Still, the story does have a certain spring in its step, and Scarlett herself is a fine heroine. A sequel is planned, and if the next installment can conjure up a more substantial plot, there may be some mileage in the series.

An uneven but promising whodunit.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4808-8671-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2020

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Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

CROOKED RIVER

FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast finds evil afoot in his latest action-filled adventure (Verses for the Dead, 2018, etc.).

Imagine Florida beachcombers’ shock when they discover a shoe with a severed foot inside. Soon they see dozens more feet, all in identical shoes, bobbing toward the beach. Police and FBI ultimately count more than a hundred of them washing up on Sanibel and Captiva Islands' tranquil shores. Pendergast teams up with the junior Special Agent Armstrong Coldmoon to investigate this strange phenomenon. Oceanographers use a supercomputer to analyze Gulf currents and attempt to determine where the feet entered the ocean. Were they dumped off a ship or an island? Does each one represent a homicide? Analysts examine chemical residues and pollen, even the angle of each foot’s amputation, but the puzzle defies all explanation. Attention focuses on Cuba, where “something terrible was happening” in front of a coastal prison, and on China, the apparent source of the shoes. The clever plot is “a most baffling case indeed” for the brilliant Pendergast, but it’s the type of problem he thrives on. He’s hardly a stereotypical FBI agent, given for example his lemon-colored silk suit, his Panama hat, and his legendary insistence on working alone—until now. Pendergast rarely blinks—perhaps, someone surmises, he’s part reptile. But equally odd is Constance Greene, his “extraordinarily beautiful,” smart, and sarcastic young “ward” who has “eyes that had seen everything and, as a result, were surprised by nothing.” Coldmoon is more down to earth: part Lakota, part Italian, and “every inch a Fed.” Add in murderous drug dealers, an intrepid newspaper reporter, coyotes crossing the U.S.–Mexico border, and a pissed-off wannabe graphic novelist, and you have a thoroughly entertaining cast of characters. There is plenty of suspense, and the action gets bloody.

Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4725-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Professionally entertaining, with lots of realistically frustrating false hopes—though it’s hard to worry very much about...

NEON PREY

Lucas Davenport goes west.

But first he goes south, called from his home in Minnesota to the Louisiana swamp where hired killer Clayton Deese buried at least five people (the total is actually higher) before coming a cropper seven months ago with his latest target, Howell Paine. Things went sideways, sending Paine to the hospital and sentencing Deese to an ankle monitor he sliced through three days ago. Local FBI agent Sandro Tremanty, discovering Deese’s absence, wants help from the U.S. marshals in rounding up his quarry so that he can implicate loan shark Roger Smith, who’d hired him to hurt Paine and send a warning to his other debtors. And there’s another reason the feds would like to get Deese off the streets: His experiments in homicide have given him a taste for human flesh. Soon enough, Lucas, together with marshals Rae Givens and Bob Matees, has picked up Deese’s trail, which leads first to Marina Del Rey, where he’s joined his half brother, Marion Beauchamps, and Jayden Nast, “a guy with guns, who hates cops,” in a brutal home-invasion crew. Conscientious detective work brings Lucas and the LAPD within a whisker of catching Deese, but he slips away from them and heads to Las Vegas with Genesis Cox, the blonde he’s picked up, and John Rogers Cole, another accomplice. Deese and his cohort must constantly pull new jobs to support their gambling and drug habits, and it’s hard to imagine their eluding the law for very long. But there are deeper threats to their racket. Roger Smith, who knows plenty about Deese, realizes he has every reason to get rid of him, and there turns out to be no honor among the thieves closer to home either.

Professionally entertaining, with lots of realistically frustrating false hopes—though it’s hard to worry very much about the leading question here: Will the franchise hero (Twisted Prey, 2018, etc.) succeed in bringing the crooks to justice before they wipe each other off the face of the Earth?

Pub Date: April 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53658-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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