A dense, inventive, challenging account of one woman’s bizarre West Coast entanglement.

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TOR'S LAKE

A literary novel about one woman’s strange journey through Northern California.

Mason (Sebastopol, 2009) presents Elizabeth Cromwell, a professional dominatrix in San Francisco. Elizabeth is in attendance at a party during gay pride week hosted by the XX Lite Lash Society when she comes across a man named Geoffrey Godwin Dilworth. Geoff has a strange story to tell. It seems that he had a negative encounter with a dominant named Prescott. Prescott left Geoff tied up at a hotel called Tor’s Lake, with certain parts of his body painted in nail polish, and then proceeded to call Geoff’s wife. After Geoff begins referring to himself as Lance (and referring to Geoff as his “weak sister”), it’s clear that things are even odder than they first appear. Two weeks after Elizabeth’s encounter with Geoff, she is made aware that he is attempting to give her a comic-book collection valued at some quarter-million dollars. By this point, Geoff has disappeared, and Elizabeth isn’t quite sure she wants the collection, seeing how Geoff gave her “the creeps.” When Elizabeth attempts to speak with a lawyer named Sheila Prescott, an explosion outside of San Francisco’s Civic Center kills and wounds a number of people. Elizabeth comes away with only minor injuries and a blind man’s service dog. She decides that she will attempt to find the dog’s owner. It’s a mission that only adds to her convoluted journey through California towns like Vacaville and Petaluma. It is a journey that will come to involve ever stranger elements like a burned down comic-book store, a photograph of a mysterious railroad car, and a lengthy tangent on F. Scott Fitzgerald. Mason’s winding, Pynchon-esque California adventure is, in the tradition of Pynchon, sometimes difficult to follow. Although conversations tend to consist of questions and answers, they often produce more of the former than the latter. When Elizabeth asks an attorney how long Geoff’s parents were separated, the response is: “Before Melissa was born. Anne was born in San Francisco.” It’s an opaque exchange even when read in the context of the scene, not to mention the fact that it entirely ignores Elizabeth’s inquiry. Although recaps of events do occur (e.g. Elizabeth’s attempts to find the owner of the service dog are explained), the reader can expect little in the way of hand-holding. This isn’t to say the text is inscrutable, only that close reading is necessary. The payoff comes in poetic descriptions such as an “underground campground of the mad” and a visitor’s lounge with “a dozen old people with nothing to move for.” All told the story feels much longer than its nearly 400 pages, though the reader can expect the adventure of a sleuthing sadomasochist professional to prove to be every bit as odd as it sounds.

A dense, inventive, challenging account of one woman’s bizarre West Coast entanglement.

Pub Date: April 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4808-1757-9

Page Count: 378

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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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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THE MIDNIGHT CLUB

Patterson's thrillers (Virgin, 1980; Black Market, 1986) have plummeted in quality since his promising debut in The Thomas Berryman Number (1976)—with this latest being the sorriest yet: a clanky and witless policer about a criminal mastermind and the cop sworn to take him down. Aside from watching sympathetic homicide dick John ("Stef") Stefanovich comeing to terms with a wheelchair-bound life—legacy of a shotgun blast to the back by drug-and-gun-running archfiend Alexandre St.-Germain—the major interest here lies in marvelling at the author's trashing of fiction convention. The whopper comes early: although St.-Germain is explicity described as being machine-gunned to death by three vigilante cops in a swank brothel (". . .a submachine gun blast nearly ripped off the head of Alexandre St.-Germain"; "The mobster's head and most of his neck had been savaged by the machine-gun volley. The body looked desecrated. . ."), before you know it this latter-day Moriarty is stepping unscathed out of an airplane. What gives? Authorial cheating, that's what—thinly glossed over with some mumbling later on about a "body double." Not that St.-Germain's ersatz death generated much suspense anyway, with subsequent action focusing on, among other items, the gory killings of assorted mob bosses by one of the vigilante cops, and Stef's viewing of pornographic tapes confiscated from that brothel. But readers generous enough to plod on will get to read about the newly Lazarus-ized St.-Germain's crass efforts to revitalize and consolidate the world's crime syndicates ("the Midnight Club"), Stef's predictable tumble for a sexy true-crime writer, and how (isn't one miracle enough for Patterson?) at book's end Stef walks again and gets to embrace a rogue cop who's murdered several people. Ironsides with a badge and a lobotomy.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1988

ISBN: 0446676411

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1988

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