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

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THE REDHEAD

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: Feb. 1, 2017

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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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