Hap and Leonard remain two of the most likable characters in crime fiction. The writing around them needs to get back to the...

THE ELEPHANT OF SURPRISE

Private investigators Hap and Leonard stumble across a young woman fleeing from her torturers and wind up having to keep on saving her life in this latest entry in the amiable series.

A wild storm is wreaking havoc in East Texas, a (rather obvious) metaphor for the hell being unleashed by the pursuers going after Hap and Leonard's charge, a young woman they find with her tongue half cut out and the men who aim to finish the job at her heels. The story follows the pair as they attempt to find one safe haven after another for this young woman, named Nikki, and then scamper to save their collective butts when each place proves inadequate. The book is more relentless than previous outings in the series, with the action moving at a near-constant clip, which has both advantages and drawbacks. Among the former, the headlong pace makes for one vivid set piece after another. Among the latter, a sense of inertia when, inevitably, things have to slow down to provide background for the narrative. Nikki tells Hap and Leonard her story across pages and pages, including more information than we need; it seems like one hell of a marathon gab for someone recovering from having her tongue almost snipped out. Worse is the confrontation with the head bad guy, as verbose and pleased with himself as evil hot shots usually are. There are also the series' periodic lapses into sentimentality and, much more annoying, Hap's twinges of conscience, which will lead him, in the name of avoiding unnecessary violence, to allow some particularly vile species of thug to keep breathing when every shred of common sense should tell him this baddie is going to be trouble very soon down the road. If the series insists on providing Hap with these moments, it should live up to its toughness by making him pay the price for them.

Hap and Leonard remain two of the most likable characters in crime fiction. The writing around them needs to get back to the lean hardness that made the series such a pleasure in the first place.

Pub Date: March 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-47987-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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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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