An intriguing title, but a fitful tale of blackmail and murder.

This debut detective novel’s eponymous figure embroils a Los Angeles private investigator in a convoluted case.

Leslie Carworth, the redhead who jump-starts this tale, makes a dramatic entrance into the office of gumshoe Charlie McQuillen. The “tall, lanky redhead” with the “grapefruit-sized breasts” looks to him as if she “could be dangerous in a lot of ways.” Driving home the point, he further reflects: “A girl like this could get a guy into trouble sometimes.” She wants McQuillen to investigate who’s following her, but before she actually hires him, she is grabbed by two men and disappears. From here, she flits in and out of the story as McQuillen follows a trail that leads him to the wealthy Wortts family, whose patriarch is mounting a run for state senator. The body count begins to rise once James Mudd, an Army captain, likewise solicits McQuillen to shadow someone: Leslie Carworth. “Is this a dangerous case you’re on?” McQuillen is asked at one point. “Not so far, but it’s getting a little strange,” he responds. And stranger, once a blackmail plot involving “old man Wortts” is added to the mix. Howington knows the notes of classic noir: McQuillen is a burned-out war veteran with a struggling practice and the requisite ex-wife who’s bleeding him dry financially. But the author is tone deaf to the music of the genre. Suffice to say, if being threatened by goons, Philip Marlowe’s first reaction wouldn’t be “to drop to the ground and plead for mercy.” And Carworth will not make crime fiction devotees forget their favorite femmes fatales. She generates a little smoke, but no fire. In addition, there are puzzling anachronisms. The book’s cover depicts what appears to be a contemporary businesswoman, so it’s a surprise to read that Carworth drives “a new 1949 Cadillac convertible.” But more distracting are the odd digressions that undercut suspenseful scenes, such as one in which McQuillen and the two women in his life are in extreme peril, and he chooses at this tense time to note to himself: “This is a nice little cabin.I think after I get out of this, I may find me something like it.

An intriguing title, but a fitful tale of blackmail and murder.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5246-4469-7

Page Count: 184

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 2017


Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

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. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020


As in summer movies, a triple dose of violence conceals the absence of real menace when neither victims nor avengers stir...

Dr. Alex Cross has left Metro DC Homicide for the FBI, but it’s business as usual in this laughably rough-hewn fairy tale of modern-day white slavery.

According to reliable sources, more people are being sold into slavery than ever before, and it all seems to be going down on the FBI’s watch. Atlanta ex-reporter Elizabeth Connolly, who looks just like Claudia Schiffer, is the ninth target over the past two years to be abducted by a husband-and-wife pair who travel the country at the behest of the nefarious Pasha Sorokin, the Wolf of the Red Mafiya. The only clues are those deliberately left behind by the kidnappers, who snatch fashion designer Audrey Meek from the King of Prussia Mall in full view of her children, or patrons like Audrey’s purchaser, who ends up releasing her and killing himself. Who you gonna call? Alex Cross, of course. Even though he still hasn’t finished the Agency’s training course, all the higher-ups he runs into, from hardcases who trust him to lickspittles seething with envy, have obviously read his dossier (Four Blind Mice, 2002, etc.), and they know the new guy is “close to psychic,” a “one-man flying squad” who’s already a legend, “like Clarice Starling in the movies.” It’s lucky that Cross’s reputation precedes him, because his fond creator doesn’t give him much to do here but chase suspects identified by obliging tipsters and worry about his family (Alex Jr.’s mother, alarmed at Cross’s dangerous job, is suing for custody) while the Wolf and his cronies—Sterling, Mr. Potter, the Art Director, Sphinx, and the Marvel—kidnap more dishy women (and the occasional gay man) and kill everybody who gets in their way, and quite a few poor souls who don’t.

As in summer movies, a triple dose of violence conceals the absence of real menace when neither victims nor avengers stir the slightest sympathy.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2003

ISBN: 0-316-60290-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2003

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