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

THE TROUT POND

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.

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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POP GOES THE WEASEL

After a flight in fantasy with When the Wind Blows (1998), Patterson goes to ground with another slash-and-squirm psychokiller page-turner, this one dedicated to “the millions of Alex Cross readers, who so frequently ask, can’t you write faster?” By day, Geoffrey Shafer is a charming, 42-year-old British Embassy paper-pusher with a picture-perfect family and a shady past as an MI-6 secret agent. Come sundown, he swallows a pharmacy of psychoactive pills, gulps three black coffees loaded with sugar, and roams the streets of Washington, D.C., in a battered cab, where, disguised as a black man, he rolls dice to determine which among his black female fares he—ll murder. Afterwards he dumps his naked victims in crime-infested back alleys of black- slum neighborhoods, then sends e-mails boasting of his accomplishments to three other former MI-6 agents involved in a hellish Internet role-playing game. “I sensed I was at the start of another homicide mess,” sighs forensic-psychologist turned homicide-detective Alex Cross. Cross yearns to catch the “Jane Doe murderer” but is thwarted by Det. Chief George Pittman, who assigns sexy Det. Patsy Hampton to investigate Cross and come up with a reason for dismissing him. Meanwhile, Cross’s fiancÇe is kidnaped during a Bermuda vacation, and an anonymous e-mail warns him to back off. He doesn’t, of course, and just when it appears that Patterson is sleep-walking through his story, Cross nabs Shafer minutes after Shafer kills Det. Hampton. During the subsequent high-visibility trail, Shafer manages to make the jury believe that he’s innocent and that Cross was trying to frame him. When all seems lost, a sympathetic British intelligence chief offers to help Cross bring down Shafer, and the other homicidal game-players, during a showdown on the breezy beaches of Jamaica. Kinky mayhem, a cartoonish villain, regular glimpses of the kindly Cross caring for his loved ones, and an ending that spells a sequel: Patterson’s fans couldn’t ask for more.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-69328-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1999

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