A somber, moody, and absorbing mystery/thriller.

CENTRAL CITY

A debut novel offers a noirish procedural set in the early 1990s that follows police detectives investigating a string of murders in a sordid, crime-laden American city.

Central City Detective Vinnie Bayonne’s latest case is an apparent overdose. At least, that’s the direction his informant Kane Kulpa wants the investigation to take. The victim, Mikey Connolly, was a bartender at Alfie’s, an establishment owned by Kane’s boss, Bruno Pantagglia, who specializes in such illicit deeds as drugs and prostitution. As Mikey was a known junkie, an overdose is indeed a likelihood. But Bayonne has questions concerning the crime scene, starting with the body’s fetal position and hands seemingly clasped in prayer, as if someone had posed it that way. He investigates the possible murder with his partner, freshly minted detective Adam McKenna. Their interrogations quickly lead them to another victim as well as the startling revelation that Mikey wasn’t the first murder, but the third, each body left in an identical pose. Meanwhile, Tran Van Kahn, a man police have long suspected of various crimes, is muscling in on some local territory for drug trafficking and prostitution. As it’s evident he simply kills uncooperative individuals, he seems to want Bruno to sit by idly while Tran takes over. Kane does what he can to avoid a potential war among the criminals but can’t disregard his own murky past that’s slowly resurfacing. The murder case and the trouble brewing between Tran and others are bound to clash, and further deaths are sadly unavoidable.

Perro’s novel is a persistently grim thriller. The detective story initially adopts the formula of buddy cop films with newly partnered polar opposites: Bayonne, “the grizzled, nicotine-stained veteran,” and McKenna, “the youthful, out-of-shape nerd.” But the author wisely fleshes out the characters, who gradually earn each other’s respect but also have personal backstories that affect them individually. For example, the positioning of the bodies disturbs McKenna, which he can’t explain but, readers eventually learn, has ties to his past. The story is bleak, an unflinching portrayal of Central City’s—and surrounding areas’—underbelly. Particulars are often unnerving, from assorted stains on walls and clothes to liquids that a cadaver discharges and even Bayonne’s perpetual chewing tobacco and resulting spit. Still, it’s atmospheric: “The precinct had seen better days, the brick was stained by the elements, and the roof had lost a few tiles over the years. When it rained hard, the detectives had to turn their trash cans into buckets to staunch the flood.” It’s perhaps not surprising that instances of humor are dark, like Bruno’s giggles resembling “a drowning Muppet.” For much of the novel, the murder investigation and Kane’s story act as two concurrent subplots. But the narrative ultimately concentrates a bit more on Kane. This proves beneficial, as the feud over territories turns increasingly more intense and violent. At the same time, the detectives don’t make much headway, though the reason for this becomes clearer as the story progresses and leads to a satisfying resolution.

A somber, moody, and absorbing mystery/thriller.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 209

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2020

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Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

THE LIONESS

An actress and her entourage are kidnapped by Russians in Bohjalian’s uneven thriller.

In 1964, Hollywood’s gossip rags are agog as movie star Katie Barstow marries gallerist David Hill and takes her inner circle along on her honeymoon. And an adventuresome honeymoon it is—on safari in the Serengeti with aging big-game hunter Charlie Patton, who once helped Hemingway bag trophies. But Katie is not the star of this ensemble piece. The populous cast—a who’s who at the beginning is indispensable—includes Katie’s publicist, Reggie Stout; her agent, Peter Merrick; her best friend, Carmen Tedesco, a supporting actress who plays wisecracking sidekicks; and Terrance Dutton, Katie's recent co-star, a Black actor who's challenging Sidney Poitier's singularity in Hollywood. With obvious nods to Hemingway’s worst fear—masculine cowardice—Bohjalian adds in Felix Demeter, Carmen’s husband, a B-list screenwriter who reminds his wife of Hemingway’s weakling Francis Macomber. Felix seems a superfluous double of David, who feels inadequate because Katie is the breadwinner and his father is CIA. Then there’s Katie’s older brother, Billy Stepanov, whose abuse at the hands of their mother shaped the psychologist he is today; Billy’s pregnant wife, Margie; and Benjamin Kikwete, an apprentice safari guide. Thus, a proliferation of voices whose competing perspectives fragment rather than advance the story. The kidnapping plot seems less designed to test each character’s mettle than to exercise Bohjalian’s predilection for minute descriptions of gore. The most heartfelt portrayal here is of the Serengeti and its flora and fauna, but none of the human characters net enough face time to transcend their typecasting. The motives behind the kidnapping might have lent intrigue to the proceedings, but foreshadowing is so slight that the infodump explainer at the end leaves us shocked, mostly at how haphazard the plot is.

Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54482-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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Generations may succeed generations, but Sandford’s patented investigation/action formula hasn’t aged a whit. Bring it on.

THE INVESTIGATOR

A domestic-terrorist plot gives the adopted daughter of storied U.S. Marshal Lucas Davenport her moment to shine.

Veteran oilman Vermilion Wright knows that losing a few thousand gallons of crude is no more than an accounting error to his company but could mean serious money to whomever’s found a way to siphon it off from wells in Texas’ Permian Basin. So he asks Sen. Christopher Colles, Chair of Homeland Security and Government Affairs, to look into it, and Colles persuades 24-year-old Letty Davenport, who’s just quit his employ, to return and partner with Department of Homeland Security agent John Kaiser to track down the thieves. The plot that right-winger Jane Jael Hawkes and her confederates, most of them service veterans with disgruntled attitudes and excellent military skills, have hatched is more dire than anything Wright could have imagined. They plan to use the proceeds from the oil thefts to purchase some black-market C4 essential to a major act of terrorism that will simultaneously express their alarm about the country’s hospitality to illegal immigrants and put the Jael-Birds on the map for good. But they haven’t reckoned with Letty, another kid born on the wrong side of the tracks who can outshoot the men she’s paired with and outthink the vigilantes she finds herself facing—and who, along with her adoptive father, makes a memorable pair of “pragmatists. Really harsh pragmatists” willing to do whatever needs doing without batting an eye or losing a night’s sleep afterward.

Generations may succeed generations, but Sandford’s patented investigation/action formula hasn’t aged a whit. Bring it on.

Pub Date: April 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-32868-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2022

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