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From the Big Bend Country Mysteries series , Vol. 3

A thoroughly entertaining tale in an authentic setting that’s as colorful as its characters.

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A Texas sheriff copes with murder, attempted murder, and a returning ex-girlfriend in this third mystery series installment.

Clayton Shoot, now sheriff of Brewster County, Texas, isn’t expecting to have to deal with more than the usual rowdy crop of tourists in the area during spring break. That changes when the headliner for an annual cowboy poetry event is murdered, two septuagenarians are attacked on the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park, and Clayton’s former girlfriend, college professor Claire Harp, is back in town after a book tour and a walk on the red carpet with her 18-year-old, Oscar-winning brother. In this latest book in the enjoyable Big Bend Country Mystery series, Rusz again places fresh characters and inventive, parallel plots in the sprawling and diverse Trans-Pecos region of Texas with the deft touch of someone who knows the area well. Among the author’s returning, lively cast members are newly minted deputy sheriff Alonso Rangel, 24, and his 40-ish wife, police chief Fiona Tusk-Rangel, who was once a thorn in Clayton’s side but is now mellowed by marriage and impending motherhood; attack victims Ella Danton Nixon, who’s an anti-fracking, pro-gun screenwriter, and her dour husband, Barney; Clayton’s matchmaking sister, Beatrice Shoot; chief ranger Velma Furcron at Big Bend National Park; and FBI special agent Lee Perciak. New faces include wealthy businessman Andrew Crane, who’s oddly interested in Ella and Barney’s radical activism in the 1960s. Unexpectedly, the reasons behind Ella’s strange reaction to her own assault and the near-fatal assault on Barney come to light early on; so does a revelation from a surprising source in regard to the event. Unusually for a mystery, Rusz also doesn’t keep the primary culprit, or their motives, secret. A country singer’s fate may be rooted in the past, as well; the author informs readers of that motive for murder with genuine pathos. Meanwhile, Clayton and Claire’s mutual interest in solving the mysteries hints that a spark remains between them—and that a fourth book may be in the offing.

A thoroughly entertaining tale in an authentic setting that’s as colorful as its characters.

Pub Date: Dec. 17, 2020

ISBN: 979-8-58-309725-8

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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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. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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This book and its author are cleverer than you and want you to know it.

In this mystery, the narrator constantly adds commentary on how the story is constructed.

In 1929, during the golden age of mysteries, a (real-life) writer named Ronald Knox published the “10 Commandments of Detective Fiction,” 10 rules that mystery writers should obey in order to “play fair.” When faced with his own mystery story, our narrator, an author named Ernest Cunningham who "write[s] books about how to write books," feels like he must follow these rules himself. The story seemingly begins on the night his brother Michael calls to ask him to help bury a body—and shows up with the body and a bag containing $267,000. Fast-forward three years, and Ernie’s family has gathered at a ski resort to celebrate Michael’s release from prison. The family dynamics are, to put it lightly, complicated—and that’s before a man shows up dead in the snow and Michael arrives with a coffin in a truck. When the local cop arrests Michael for the murder, things get even more complicated: There are more deaths; Michael tells a story about a coverup involving their father, who was part of a gang called the Sabers; and Ernie still has (most of) the money and isn’t sure whom to trust or what to do with it. Eventually, Ernie puts all the pieces together and gathers the (remaining) family members and various extras for the great denouement. As the plot develops, it becomes clear that there’s a pretty interesting mystery at the heart of this novel, but Stevenson’s postmodern style has Ernie constantly breaking the fourth wall to explain how the structure of his story meets the criteria for a successful detective story. Some readers are drawn to mysteries because they love the formula and logic—this one’s for them. If you like the slow, sometimes-creepy, sometimes-comforting unspooling of a good mystery, it might not be your cup of tea—though the ending, to be fair, is still something of a surprise.

This book and its author are cleverer than you and want you to know it.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-06-327902-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Mariner Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2022

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