Characters both sympathetic and vile and a neat, mean, little mystery rescue the story from well-intended but bombastic...

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THE PINNACLE SEVEN

A POLITICAL MYSTERY

A TV journalist’s rising star is knocked sideways when she returns to her small hometown to clean up her late father’s unfinished business.

Richards (A Most Uncommon Journey, 2000, etc.) starts her murder mystery cum political broadside on a deathbed. Cassie Danforth’s father, a much admired newspaper editor, is about to expire. He asks Cassie to return home and take the reins of the paper. Lastly, he cryptically whispers, “It… begins… here.” Cassie is ambivalent, but she heeds her father’s wishes, including learning the meaning of his final words. Richards lovingly, chromatically evokes the atmosphere of a small, well-preserved North Carolina town, its bosky precincts—the courthouse square, the outlying plantation houses—as well as its ugly underbelly; it’s always a delightful surprise, bookwise, to discover the depravity lurking in the most genteel settings, and Richards plays the card with finesse. A dashing stranger comes to town, Cooper Canaday (revealed to be running for a U.S. Senate seat and looking to tidy up some unfinished business of his own), whose soon-to-blossom romantic interest in Cassie develops in a most chivalrous fashion. Embracing the whole tale is the creation of a third national political party, which Cooper, Linwood Johnson (a local football hero turned college professor) and a handful of poobahs wish Cassie to join. This political party is where the story meets a hiccup. It’s not enough for readers to be told the nation’s political system is a viper’s nest of greed, arrogance and self-indulgence, and Richards provides few platform particulars of the third party on which to hang your hat. Richards presents great characters, suffusing each with a robust personality, so their lapses into speechifying feel especially wayward: “Obstinate, unyielding personalities equate to stalemate while the country flounders. There are solutions, and those solutions will take courage,” Linwood woodenly says at one point. Meanwhile, the third-party’s leader leaves readers wondering just why he got the post. Still, Richards handles the mystery with aplomb, teasing the crime into greater darkness and the shadow players into ever increasing menace.

Characters both sympathetic and vile and a neat, mean, little mystery rescue the story from well-intended but bombastic political philosophizing.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1450256391

Page Count: 268

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2010

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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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Proficient but eminently predictable. Amid all the time shifts and embedded backstories, the most surprising feature is how...

THE A LIST

A convicted killer’s list of five people he wants dead runs the gamut from the wife he’s already had murdered to franchise heroine Ali Reynolds.

Back in the day, women came from all over to consult Santa Clarita fertility specialist Dr. Edward Gilchrist. Many of them left his care happily pregnant, never dreaming that the father of the babies they carried was none other than the physician himself, who donated his own sperm rather than that of the handsome, athletic, disease-free men pictured in his scrapbook. When Alexandra Munsey’s son, Evan, is laid low by the kidney disease he’s inherited from his biological father and she returns to Gilchrist in search of the donor’s medical records, the roof begins to fall in on him. By the time it’s done falling, he’s serving a life sentence in Folsom Prison for commissioning the death of his wife, Dawn, the former nurse and sometime egg donor who’d turned on him. With nothing left to lose, Gilchrist tattoos himself with the initials of five people he blames for his fall: Dawn; Leo Manuel Aurelio, the hit man he’d hired to dispose of her; Kaitlyn Todd, the nurse/receptionist who took Dawn’s place; Alex Munsey, whose search for records upset his apple cart; and Ali Reynolds, the TV reporter who’d helped put Alex in touch with the dozen other women who formed the Progeny Project because their children looked just like hers. No matter that Ali’s been out of both California and the news business for years; Gilchrist and his enablers know that revenge can’t possibly be served too cold. Wonder how far down that list they’ll get before Ali, aided once more by Frigg, the methodical but loose-cannon AI first introduced in Duel to the Death (2018), turns on them?

Proficient but eminently predictable. Amid all the time shifts and embedded backstories, the most surprising feature is how little the boundary-challenged AI, who gets into the case more or less inadvertently, differs from your standard human sidekick with issues.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5101-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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