KILL FEE

A no-nonsense newsman tracks down a child sex-and-murder ring in Paulsen's second adult thriller, no more original than his first (Night Rituals, 1989) but as sleek and tightly controlled as the abundant juvenile fiction that's won him two Newbery Awards. Paulsen weaves his taut tale from three main plot lines that knot only in the last few pages. Most central is that of veteran Colorado crime-reporter Tally Janrus, who answers an urgent plea from a homicide cop: to help solve a nationwide series of sex-killings that have found several children mysteriously lying dead, battered and molested, in rural areas. Digging out leads from a sleazy fellow reporter, taking time out to visit his rancher girlfriend, Tally finally deduces that the dead kids were dropped from an airplane. Intercut with Tally's story is the multistrand tale of several villains, among them: Rev, an evangelist whose sideline is kidnapping children (including young Davey Hascombs, whose snatch and molestation give the novel its cruel, realistic edge) and turning them over to. . .amoral homosexual procurer Billee Constairs, who then sells the kids to. . .arch-criminal Carlyle Rissden, who pimps them to sadistic billionaires and then has them killed. Meanwhile, in further intercut chapters, an ancient and ill Hispanic waits by a lonely airstrip in New Mexico, rifle in hand, hoping to spot a drug-smuggling airplane and get a reward with which to buy medicine. When the plot lines tie up, a rough justice prevails; before then, Tally will have lost his girlfriend, leaving him at novel's end with only his journalist's code, his battered Olivetti, and "the story"—not enough for happiness, but probably enough for a sequel. A familiar tale, with echoes of Leonard, Vachss, and Chandler; but without a wasted word in the telling, and with sharply drawn characters, it's still lean, swift, and satisfying.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 1990

ISBN: 1556112033

Page Count: -

Publisher: Donald Fine

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1990

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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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Creepy, violent, and propulsive; a standout gothic mystery.

THINGS IN JARS

Lady detective Bridie Devine searches for a missing child and finds much more than she bargained for.

Bridie Devine is no stranger to the seedy underworld of Victorian London. An accomplished detective with medical training, she sometimes helps the police by examining bodies to determine the cause of death. Bridie recently failed to find a lost child, and when she’s approached about another missing child, the daughter of Sir Edmund Berwick, she isn’t enthusiastic about taking on the case. But Christabel Berwick is no ordinary child. Sir Edmund has hidden Christabel away her whole life and wants Bridie to believe this is an ordinary kidnapping. Bridie does a little digging and learns that Christabel isn’t his daughter so much as his prized specimen. Sir Edmund believes Christabel is a “merrow,” a darker and less romanticized version of a mermaid. Bridie is skeptical, but there are reports of Christabel’s sharp teeth, color-changing eyes, and ability to drown people on dry land. Given that Bridie’s new companion is a ghost who refuses to tell her why he’s haunting her, Bridie might want to open her mind a bit. There’s a lot going on in this singular novel, and none of it pretty. Bridie’s London is soaked with mud and blood, and her past is nightmarish at best. Kidd (Mr. Flood’s Last Resort, 2018, etc.) is an expert at setting a supernatural mood perfect for ghosts and merrows, but her human villains make them seem mundane by comparison. With so much detail and so many clever, Dickensian characters, readers might petition Kidd to give Bridie her own series.

Creepy, violent, and propulsive; a standout gothic mystery.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-2128-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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