A depressingly thorough tour of managed-care malfeasance that’s a whistleblower’s pipe dream—though the skullduggery is so...

THE OATH

Skeletons leap from a San Francisco HMO’s closet after its CEO is struck by a hit-and-run driver and dies in his company’s own hospital: Lescroart’s latest look at the sociology of murder.

Before you start cheering the ironic aptness of Tim Markham’s death, consider some of the complications. The unidentified jogger was so badly injured at the accident scene that the ambulance driver considered taking him to County Hospital lest Parnassus Health’s cost-conscious Portola Hospital stabilize him and then ship him over to County anyway. Shortly after Markham checks out, his wife Carla, their three teenagers, and the family dog are shot to death in a transparently phony murder-suicide. Since Markham had been sleeping with Ann Kensing, her husband Eric, a Parnassus staff physician, leaps to the top of Lt. Abe Glitsky’s suspect list. And when Glitsky’s best friend Dismas Hardy, the lawyer Eric’s retained to dispel the gathering clouds of suspicion, hears that Markham was murdered as well by a lethal injection of potassium, he starts seriously digging into Parnassus’ finances. The results would gratify the most fervid HMO–basher. Parnassus, who insures the city’s municipal employees, had just stuck the mayor’s office with a whopping $13 million bill for additional services rendered over the past two years—a bill the city is sharply disputing, though it can’t afford to sue Parnassus out of business. Now there are whispers of kickbacks for listing less-than-effective generic substitute drugs in the corporation’s formulary, pending malpractice actions over a string of deaths in Portola’s Intensive Care Unit, and the distinct possibility that a dozen of those deaths, maybe more, involved care-giving more baleful than careless.

A depressingly thorough tour of managed-care malfeasance that’s a whistleblower’s pipe dream—though the skullduggery is so complete, so densely imagined, and so lacking in drama that Hardy and Glitsky (The Hearing, p. 132, etc.) come up short on both mystery and suspense.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2002

ISBN: 0-525-94576-8

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2001

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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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Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless...

SPLIT SECOND

Two defrocked Secret Service Agents investigate the assassination of one presidential candidate and the kidnapping of another.

Baldacci (The Christmas Train, 2002, etc.) sets out with two plot strands. The first begins when something distracts Secret Service Agent Sean King and during that “split second,” presidential candidate Clyde Ritter is shot dead. King takes out the killer, but that’s not enough to save his reputation with the Secret Service. He retires and goes on to do often tedious but nonetheless always lucrative work (much like a legal thriller such as this) at a law practice. Plot two begins eight years later when another Secret Service Agent, Michelle Maxwell, lets presidential candidate John Bruno out of her sight for a few minutes at a wake for one of his close associates. He goes missing. Now Maxwell, too, gets in dutch with the SS. Though separated by time, the cases are similar and leave several questions unanswered. What distracted King at the rally? Bruno had claimed his friend’s widow called him to the funeral home. The widow (one of the few characters here to have any life) says she never called Bruno. Who set him up? Who did a chambermaid at Ritter’s hotel blackmail? And who is the man in the Buick shadowing King’s and Maxwell’s every move? King is a handsome, rich divorce, Maxwell an attractive marathon runner. Will they join forces and find each other kind of, well, appealing? But of course. The two former agents traverse the countryside, spinning endless hypotheses before the onset, at last, of a jerrybuilt conclusion that begs credibility and offers few surprises.

Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless concoction.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2003

ISBN: 0-446-53089-1

Page Count: 406

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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