A stay-up-late-until-it’s-finished mystery with pitch-perfect dialogue, a Southern sexy feel, and empathetic characters on...

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THE STAR SPANGLED MURDER

A JONAS LAUER MYSTERY

In rapid-fire succession, two disappearances and two seemingly unrelated crimes come to the attention of a Tennessee sheriff in this fifth installment of a series.

First, middle-aged Mavis Rutledge, estranged wife of wealthy entrepreneur Emmet Rutledge, is reported missing. Emmet’s known for having recent money trouble, and upon investigation, Sheriff Jonas Lauer learns he has other issues. “A man who has been using drugs, gambling, and is now carrying a gun,” Lauer observes, noting that those three things “rarely ever mix well together.” Still it’s a surprise when a blood-soaked but corpseless scene is discovered on the sailboat Mavis has lived on since splitting from her husband. Then Emmet also vanishes. As does something else—the Veterans Memorial’s 91-pound, 30-by-60-foot flag has been taken hostage for $10,000. No doubt the theft came to life courtesy of a City Hall employee’s pillow talk about the high cost of the flag to a prostitute he paid with stolen municipal funds. Finally something is found, not lost: but it’s a semi delivering to area food marts, and it holds more than pallets of baking ingredients—it’s also packed with heroin. “The Dixie Mafia,” a syndicate that operates “throughout the South,” underpins all these incidents. Mark Russell, an educated and unusual member of the mob, seems to be pulling the strings, or is he just struggling to survive a new crime boss? Regardless, he taunts Lauer with phone calls and questions about his parents and his upcoming nuptials to his fiancee, Lydia Corbett, an investigator for the attorney general’s office. As the body count rises, brief summaries of previous books in this excellent series arrive organically. The pacing roller-coasters from stretches of calm to accelerated heights and unexpected turns, with the occasional inversion of a character or theory. The vibrant dialogue and landscape seem ripe for a quality cable TV miniseries. Hester (The House of Cards Murder, 2016, etc.) writes an engaging, realistic mystery with strong characters, but the real puzzle is why a writer so talented can’t find an editor who can fix the book’s rampant comma errors and other mistakes. Case in point: main character Emmet’s name is spelled alternatingly Emmet and Emmett, sometimes on the same page.

A stay-up-late-until-it’s-finished mystery with pitch-perfect dialogue, a Southern sexy feel, and empathetic characters on both sides of the law.

Pub Date: Nov. 22, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-974143-17-7

Page Count: 436

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 19, 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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Child builds tension to unbearable extremes, then blows it out in sharply choreographed violence, even if his plot has more...

ECHO BURNING

From the Jack Reacher series , Vol. 5

Smashingly suspenseful fifth in Child’s series (Running Blind, 2000, etc.) lands this British author’s rootless, laconic action hero in southwest Texas, where a femme fatale lures him into a family squabble that inevitably turns violent.

In the kind of daylight-noir setting that Jim Thompson loved, ex-military cop Jack Reacher has his thumb out on a lonely west Texas highway when he’s picked up by Carmine Greer, the Mexican-American wife of bad-ol’-boy Sloop Greer. It seems that Sloop, elder son of a white-trash-turned-oil-rich ranching dynasty, is nearing the end of a prison term for tax evasion, and Carmine, whose body Reacher sees is marked with signs of physical abuse, wants Reacher to be her bodyguard—or, failing that, kill the man in such a way that Carmine can still hold on to her terminally cute six-year-old daughter Ellie. Reacher refuses but decides to meet the folks: Rusty, Sloop’s racist, charmless mother, and Bobby, Sloop’s stupid, pugnacious brother. Meanwhile, a trio of paid assassins is littering the Texas roadside with corpses, starting with Sloop’s lawyer, Al Eugene. In a set-piece as good as anything in Elmore Leonard, Bobby sends two ranch-hands to ambush Reacher at an Abilene roadhouse filled with 20 other cowboys spoiling for a fight. Reacher walks away without a scratch, telling Bobby that his hospitalized ranch-hands have “quit.” Child twists his increasingly hokey plot into a pretzel when Sloop is found dead and Carmine confesses to killing him. Reacher just can’t believe that Carmine is guilty and teams up with Alice Aarons, a leggy Jewish lesbian fresh out of law school, who trusts him with her car, her handgun, and her life.

Child builds tension to unbearable extremes, then blows it out in sharply choreographed violence, even if his plot has more holes in it than the shirt Reacher uses for target practice.

Pub Date: July 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14726-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2001

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