Character actions don’t always make sense, but the story carries a marked impression of dread and impending doom.

Strategy for Murder

In Verdeyen’s debut thriller, there’s a hitch to a man’s perfect murder of his wife: he must travel to Indiana to recover jewelry from a mistakenly sold piece of furniture.

Attorney Steven Babcock may have gotten away with murder. He seems to have covered all his bases in the plot to kill his wife, Marian, but he didn’t count on the auction company inadvertently selling his hutch, where he’s stashed some of Marian’s more extravagant jewels. He manages to track the hutch to antique shop owner Bob Hillard in Illinois. Unfortunately, he has to kill Bob to get the pertinent information: Indiana native Jennifer Osbourn, it seems, is the hutch’s newest owner. Steven is on the hunt, but Jennifer and Chicago PI Matt Broadhurst are looking into Bob’s murder. The lawyer’s inquiries to Jennifer about the antique piece make the two suspicious, and it might not be easy for Steven to retrieve the jewelry. Verdeyen’s novel is a subdued but competent thriller. Steven, for one, is a frighteningly meticulous villain. He’s generally impolite but not outright violent, and his plot for Marian’s murder is chillingly cold and depraved. A fair amount of first-person perspective from Steven only solidifies his detailed scheming and unsettling lack of guilt or empathy. His behavior when searching for the jewelry, however, is strange: he doesn’t simply explain the error to Bob or insist that the company, whose auctioneer admitted to the mistake, reclaim the hutch for him. In fact, he becomes increasingly desperate as the story progresses, which adds to the suspense, especially when he assumes that the hutch is in Jennifer’s house. There’s an implied attraction between Jennifer and Matt, but it fortunately never overwhelms the story. The duo form an unlikely but believable investigative team, piecing together recent goings-on like an odd phone call or a shopper at Jennifer’s store asking about a hutch. Still, some of their decisions are confusing: Matt suggests not calling the cops because, he says, the two have neither a name nor a description of Bob’s possible killer, though Steven’s mysterious call and shop visit have given Jennifer both.

Character actions don’t always make sense, but the story carries a marked impression of dread and impending doom.

Pub Date: April 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-1499296990

Page Count: 158

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 14, 2015

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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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A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be...

BADLANDS

Box takes another break from his highly successful Joe Pickett series (Stone Cold, 2014, etc.) for a stand-alone about a police detective, a developmentally delayed boy, and a package everyone in North Dakota wants to grab.

Cassandra Dewell can’t leave Montana’s Lewis and Clark County fast enough for her new job as chief investigator for Jon Kirkbride, sheriff of Bakken County. She leaves behind no memories worth keeping: her husband is dead, her boss has made no bones about disliking her, and she’s looking forward to new responsibilities and the higher salary underwritten by North Dakota’s sudden oil boom. But Bakken County has its own issues. For one thing, it’s cold—a whole lot colder than the coldest weather Cassie’s ever imagined. For another, the job she turns out to have been hired for—leading an investigation her new boss doesn’t feel he can entrust to his own force—makes her queasy. The biggest problem, though, is one she doesn’t know about until it slaps her in the face. A fatal car accident that was anything but accidental has jarred loose a stash of methamphetamines and cash that’s become the center of a battle between the Sons of Freedom, Bakken County’s traditional drug sellers, and MS-13, the Salvadorian upstarts who are muscling in on their territory. It’s a setup that leaves scant room for law enforcement officers or for Kyle Westergaard, the 12-year-old paperboy damaged since birth by fetal alcohol syndrome, who’s walked away from the wreck with a prize all too many people would kill for.

A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be welcome to return and tie up the gaping loose end Box leaves. The unrelenting cold makes this the perfect beach read.

Pub Date: July 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-58321-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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