Questions compel, characters don’t. Give Theo the next case.

After a promising start, Grippando’s eighth thriller—about an insurance scam and the Russian Mafia—stalls at midpoint and never recharges.

Grippando (A King’s Ransom, 2001, etc.) begins as confidently as Miami lawyer Jack Swyteck (last seen in The Pardon, 1994) strides from a courtroom where he has just won a case. Jack’s former girlfriend Jessie Merrill had sold her three million-dollar insurance policy for half that amount to a firm named Viatical Solutions. Jessie had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and given a short time to live. But her doctor later said his diagnosis was wrong, and that healthy Jessie was unlikely to die anytime soon. Viatical sued to retrieve its investment and lost. But after the verdict comes down, Jack suspects that Jessie and her doctor had scammed Viatical with fake records. And he’s right—as Jessie brazenly tells him, her revenge over their break-up now complete. Then someone works revenge on Jessie: she turns up dead in Jack’s bathtub in a pool of blood, wrists slashed. Grippando now works many intriguing angles: Did Jack kill Jessie? Did Jessie kill herself? Why did Jessie deposit her take from the case in an account under her name and Jack’s? Is someone from Viatical the culprit? Jack digs into the latter possibility to save his hide and to shore up his shaky marriage with wife Cindy. Therein begins the drag. Cindy remains in numbing stasis, her conversations with Jack moving in wearying circles. Likewise, Jack’s probe of Viatical keeps meeting itself coming around to the same question: Did someone from this front for the Russian mob kill Jessica? Intriguing, but hardly riveting when pushed uphill by flat characters—save for blunt, funny Theo, Jack’s ex-con friend, who steals the few scenes Grippando gives him.

Questions compel, characters don’t. Give Theo the next case.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2002

ISBN: 0-06-621344-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2002


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


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

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 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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