Historical fiction that unsuccessfully tries to tie its grand-scale vision to a small-town focus.



The quiet town of Providence, Kentucky, becomes part of a surge in organized crime in Crowell’s (A Few Caves and Cavers of the Southeast, 2016, etc.) historical mystery, based partly on true events. 

Jim Crowell, the owner of the local gas station, often goes down to the old trout pond to meditate and catch dinner for his family. One November day in 1950, his habitual visit is cut short when he catches sight of a body floating in the water. As the Providence police try to make sense of the murder, Jim’s luck doesn’t improve; in short order, he’s robbed at knifepoint near the pond and, on a different fishing trip, he spots another corpse. As it turns out, the FBI is already in town, hunting for the members of a gang that planned and executed the infamous Great Brink’s Robbery in Boston. Ron Smith has just moved to Providence to lay low with the stolen money, while his brother, Big Ferdinand, waits in Massachusetts. Ron misses his old life, but he adapts easily to his new circumstances: he quickly picks up arson jobs from the United Mine Workers of America union, which is targeting local, non-union mines. As the feds work to bring Ron to their side to testify against his fellow gang members, Big Ferdinand becomes interested in stopping Ron’s testimony—whatever way he can. The novel’s plot initially draws on just a handful of historical events, but as the narrative continues, things begin to pile up in convoluted ways: an increasing number of crime syndicates becomes involved, Ron finds his way to Korea, and a great trial is held for the Brink’s gang members. The attempt to connect the local history of Providence to national events is an intriguing idea. However, the author doesn’t manage to effectively bring it off, as the overstuffed plot and furious pacing make it difficult to tell what (or who) is actually important to the story. Often, when a surprising or traumatic event occurs, the characters oddly take it in stride; for example, when Ron’s accomplice, Fred, is shot, he immediately limps home—there’s no description of Fred’s pain or struggle, and the gunshot wound is never brought up again.

Historical fiction that unsuccessfully tries to tie its grand-scale vision to a small-town focus.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5195-7738-2

Page Count: 250

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 7, 2017

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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. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Locke’s advancement here is so bracing that you can’t wait to discover what happens next along her East Texas highway.


The redoubtable Locke follows up her Edgar-winning Bluebird, Bluebird (2017) with an even knottier tale of racism and deceit set in the same scruffy East Texas boondocks.

It’s the 2016 holiday season, and African American Texas Ranger Darren Matthews has plenty of reasons for disquiet besides the recent election results. Chiefly there’s the ongoing fallout from Darren’s double murder investigation involving the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. He and his wife are in counseling. He’s become a “desk jockey” in the Rangers’ Houston office while fending off suspicions from a district attorney who thinks Darren hasn’t been totally upfront with him about a Brotherhood member’s death. (He hasn’t.) And his not-so-loving mother is holding on to evidence that could either save or crucify him with the district attorney. So maybe it’s kind of a relief for Darren to head for the once-thriving coastal town of Jefferson, where the 9-year-old son of another Brotherhood member serving hard time for murdering a black man has gone missing while motorboating on a nearby lake. Then again, there isn’t that much relief given the presence of short-fused white supremacists living not far from descendants of the town’s original black and Native American settlers—one of whom, an elderly black man, is a suspect in the possible murder of the still-missing boy. Meanwhile, Darren’s cultivating his own suspicions of chicanery involving the boy’s wealthy and imperious grandmother, whose own family history is entwined with the town’s antebellum past and who isn’t so fazed with her grandson’s disappearance that she can’t have a lavish dinner party at her mansion. In addition to her gifts for tight pacing and intense lyricism, Locke shows with this installment of her Highway 59 series a facility for unraveling the tangled strands of the Southwest’s cultural legacy and weaving them back together with the volatile racial politics and traumatic economic stresses of the present day. With her confident narrative hands on the wheel, this novel manages to evoke a portrait of Trump-era America—which, as someone observes of a pivotal character in the story, resembles “a toy ball tottering on a wire fence” that “could fall either way.”

Locke’s advancement here is so bracing that you can’t wait to discover what happens next along her East Texas highway.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-36340-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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