This novel has a devilishly clever gimmick and a plot to go with it; worth a read, despite its flaws.

Photographic Memory

A mystery that toggles between centuries and pits present-day antiquarians against a 19th-century serial killer—with a ghost thrown in for good measure.

Alberts’ (A Twist of Fate, 2015, etc.) story begins with Roy Archibald, a retired police detective, and his charming friends, who all work at an antique store. Roy deals in antique photographs, and as such, has a rare gift: when he holds certain photos in his hands, he goes into a sort of trance and can relive the stories behind the images. In this way, he uncovers the fact that Otis Johnson (1856-1918), a roving professional photographer, was also a serial killer. Soon, the search is on to uncover all of Johnson’s heinous crimes, and at least provide some closure to the cases and relief to the victims’ descendants. Then, just as readers settle into this rather benign historical mystery, a plot twist gives them a real kick in the gut; suffice it to say that the flourishing of evil didn’t end with Johnson. The story shifts nicely between the present and Johnson’s era as he dispatches one victim after another. One subplot shows how the oldsters become closer as they work on the case; there’s even, eventually, a wedding. There’s also a snarky teenager, Holly Wilson, who has a psychic gift as well—and a mysterious habit of showing up in Roy’s stall and then disappearing. Alberts does a good job of developing his characters, and even Johnson is more fascinating than appalling. The writing, however, is somewhat uneven; for example, the author has a habit of overreaching with his diction (such as using the phrase “ocular intake” for “looking around”), which, if it’s a conscious choice, doesn’t work as planned. Characters also seldom “say” things; rather, they “posit,” “scold,” “observe,” or whatnot, which becomes a game, but not a pleasure.

This novel has a devilishly clever gimmick and a plot to go with it; worth a read, despite its flaws.

Pub Date: June 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-5001-1839-6

Page Count: 316

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2016

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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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No wonder Scarpetta asks, “When did my workplace become such a soap opera?” Answer: at least 10 years ago.

FLESH AND BLOOD

Happy birthday, Dr. Kay Scarpetta. But no Florida vacation for you and your husband, FBI profiler Benton Wesley—not because President Barack Obama is visiting Cambridge, but because a deranged sniper has come to town.

Shortly after everyone’s favorite forensic pathologist (Dust, 2013, etc.) receives a sinister email from a correspondent dubbed Copperhead, she goes outside to find seven pennies—all polished, all turned heads-up, all dated 1981—on her garden wall. Clearly there’s trouble afoot, though she’s not sure what form it will take until five minutes later, when a call from her old friend and former employee Pete Marino, now a detective with the Cambridge Police, summons her to the scene of a shooting. Jamal Nari was a high school music teacher who became a minor celebrity when his name was mistakenly placed on a terrorist watch list; he claimed government persecution, and he ended up having a beer with the president. Now he’s in the news for quite a different reason. Bizarrely, the first tweets announcing his death seem to have preceded it by 45 minutes. And Leo Gantz, a student at Nari’s school, has confessed to his murder, even though he couldn’t possibly have done it. But these complications are only the prelude to a banquet of homicide past and present, as Scarpetta and Marino realize when they link Nari’s murder to a series of killings in New Jersey. For a while, the peripheral presence of the president makes you wonder if this will be the case that finally takes the primary focus off the investigator’s private life. But most of the characters are members of Scarpetta’s entourage, the main conflicts involve infighting among the regulars, and the killer turns out to be a familiar nemesis Scarpetta thought she’d left for dead several installments back. As if.

No wonder Scarpetta asks, “When did my workplace become such a soap opera?” Answer: at least 10 years ago.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-232534-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 23, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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