Nonetheless, a worthy addition to the famous-dead-people-as-private-investigators genre. Here, the hero is treated as a real...

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THE HUM BUG

A killer's on the loose in mid–19th-century New York, and it’s up to a cunning showman and a gloomy scribbler to catch him.

Schechter’s first Edgar Allan Poe suspense yarn, Nevermore (1999), teamed up the gothic writer with frontiersman/politician Davy Crockett. For his second outing, the reluctant investigator finds himself making a meager living from his journalistic work, his “tales of the grotesque and arabesque” ignored by a public that embraces more sentimental fiction. Such rejection upsets him not just as an artist—and Schechter portrays him as a singularly egotistical and precious specimen of that species—but as a provident husband. Now, however, an unlikely patron appears in showman and huckster extraordinaire, P.T. Barnum, who hires Poe not only to add a dash of literary class to his publications but—on the strength of Poe’s success in the Nevermore case—to help solve a recent murder that’s being indirectly blamed on him. The dead woman, Isabel Somers, was killed in a manner reminiscent of a grisly, infamous case a few years ago that Barnum had detailed in one of the more popular wax tableaux in his museum, a display one newspaper claims has encouraged the murder. Poe goes to work, leaving nary a clue unturned or an emotion unexpressed. Schechter’s style is high fun, with Poe’s arrogantly highfalutin’ vocal gymnastics (“My soul was possessed with a vague yet intolerable anguish!”) is typical—matched only by Barnum’s shameless prolixity. Despite some evocative Alienist-style scene-setting, the actual investigation, sad to say, is a lot less involving than the outsized protagonists.

Nonetheless, a worthy addition to the famous-dead-people-as-private-investigators genre. Here, the hero is treated as a real person, not a stiff literary icon.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2001

ISBN: 0-671-04115-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2001

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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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Child builds tension to unbearable extremes, then blows it out in sharply choreographed violence, even if his plot has more...

ECHO BURNING

From the Jack Reacher series , Vol. 5

Smashingly suspenseful fifth in Child’s series (Running Blind, 2000, etc.) lands this British author’s rootless, laconic action hero in southwest Texas, where a femme fatale lures him into a family squabble that inevitably turns violent.

In the kind of daylight-noir setting that Jim Thompson loved, ex-military cop Jack Reacher has his thumb out on a lonely west Texas highway when he’s picked up by Carmine Greer, the Mexican-American wife of bad-ol’-boy Sloop Greer. It seems that Sloop, elder son of a white-trash-turned-oil-rich ranching dynasty, is nearing the end of a prison term for tax evasion, and Carmine, whose body Reacher sees is marked with signs of physical abuse, wants Reacher to be her bodyguard—or, failing that, kill the man in such a way that Carmine can still hold on to her terminally cute six-year-old daughter Ellie. Reacher refuses but decides to meet the folks: Rusty, Sloop’s racist, charmless mother, and Bobby, Sloop’s stupid, pugnacious brother. Meanwhile, a trio of paid assassins is littering the Texas roadside with corpses, starting with Sloop’s lawyer, Al Eugene. In a set-piece as good as anything in Elmore Leonard, Bobby sends two ranch-hands to ambush Reacher at an Abilene roadhouse filled with 20 other cowboys spoiling for a fight. Reacher walks away without a scratch, telling Bobby that his hospitalized ranch-hands have “quit.” Child twists his increasingly hokey plot into a pretzel when Sloop is found dead and Carmine confesses to killing him. Reacher just can’t believe that Carmine is guilty and teams up with Alice Aarons, a leggy Jewish lesbian fresh out of law school, who trusts him with her car, her handgun, and her life.

Child builds tension to unbearable extremes, then blows it out in sharply choreographed violence, even if his plot has more holes in it than the shirt Reacher uses for target practice.

Pub Date: July 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14726-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2001

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