Taut and fraught with surprise twists, Hillier’s thriller is addictive.

FREAK

“Free Abby Maddox, 2/10.”  Carved into the back of a murdered prostitute, these words resurrect a violent story that everyone thought had ended.

Picking up where Creep (2010) left off, the latest from Hillier reassembles a cast of characters facing the aftermath of serial killer Ethan Wolfe’s death. Dubbed the Tell Tale Heart killer, Wolfe had seduced and tortured psychology professor and recovering sex addict Sheila Tao. Now that Wolfe is dead and his girlfriend, Abby Maddox, has been incarcerated for attacking Detective Jerry Isaac, Sheila believes she can rebuild her life. Retired from the force and estranged from his wife, Jerry struggles to regain his confidence after Maddox’s attack. The scar she left on his throat is simply the physical manifestation of the scars within his psyche. Suddenly, the wary peace is shattered, and Jerry’s partner calls him back to help with a murder case. The corpse bears a strong resemblance to Maddox, and the killer has strangled her with a zip tie. The message carved into her back prophesies nine more victims. Who is willing to kill for Maddox’s freedom? Twists and turns reveal a website devoted to freeing Maddox, a trash bag full of fan letters to Maddox and a mysterious young man hiring prostitutes online. Jerry isn’t quite ready to cope with this case, particularly when the only leads seem to lie in Maddox’s hands. Even more strange, Maddox wants to talk to Sheila. Luckily, Jerry has a new intern, Danny. Studying to become a criminologist, Danny is, of course, intrigued by the case. Her fresh-faced interest, energy and technological skills rejuvenate Jerry’s hunt. Yet as the kill count mounts, he has to begin to wonder: Is someone orchestrating everyone’s every move? The second book in this series leaves readers hungry for the next.

Taut and fraught with surprise twists, Hillier’s thriller is addictive.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6454-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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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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Brown’s ear for Texas dialect and her earnest characterizations of cynical lawmen with stout hearts make for an enjoyable...

TOUGH CUSTOMER

A manhunt for a homicidal stalker reunites an ex-cop and his long-lost daughter, in Brown’s latest thriller (Rainwater, 2009).

Private eye Dodge Hanley, who left the Houston police for Atlanta years before, is summoned back to Texas by his long-ago flame Caroline King, now a successful realtor. Caroline wants Dodge, who once rescued her from an abusive fiancé, to lend his sleuthing skills to find Oren Starks, the man who burst in on her daughter Berry and Berry’s co-worker Ben at Caroline’s lake house near the small town of Merritt. Shooting and wounding Ben, Oren fled, but not before vowing to murder Berry. A dismissed co-worker at the Houston marketing firm where Berry and Ben work, Oren was unhinged by his thwarted efforts to woo Berry and another colleague, Sally Buckland. Dodge (who, unbeknownst to Berry, is her father) and local deputy Ski Nyland join forces to track Oren down. Ski’s call to Sally finds her strangely reluctant to corroborate her previous claim of sexual harassment against Oren, perhaps because Oren has a gun to her head during the call. Despite a leg injury sustained at Caroline’s house, Oren confounds pursuers by somehow managing to be in several places at once. He breaks into a Merritt motel room, fatally wounding a teenager who surprises him there. Sally’s body is found hanging in the closet of Berry’s Houston home. Oren takes an elderly couple hostage in a campground, and kills again before disappearing into the Big Thicket, a treacherous, swampy national park. Brown’s trademark romance spiced with raunch serves her well as she orchestrates two parallel lust stories: Caroline’s and Dodge’s passionate but brief encounter in 1978, and the present frisson between Berry and Dodge’s younger doppelgänger, hard-boiled cop Ski. The narrative, slowed by too many talky scenes and descriptive filler, eventually rewards readers’ patience with a bang-up surprise ending. 

Brown’s ear for Texas dialect and her earnest characterizations of cynical lawmen with stout hearts make for an enjoyable summer read.

Pub Date: Aug. 12, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4165-6310-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2010

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