A unique mystery that lacks pull.

READ REVIEW

BOOK OF LAWS

In Swift’s (Living With Capone, 2009, etc.) latest crime novel, a murder leads a small town sheriff to consider the true meaning of home.

The town of Echo Lake is in bad shape. Locals are cheerful and self-deprecating, often repeating the old adage, “When God cursed the ground that Adam stood on, some say he had Echo Lake in mind.” The town is in full decline: Businesses are closing, young people are moving away and the old are left holding on to whatever’s left. In this failing, fading town, Sheriff Edward “Skip” Gogebic sets out to uncover who’s behind the brutal murder of the new, unpopular pastor of the local Living Life Church, Henrietta Hearthbottom. But the corpse may not even be Henrietta; the body has been beaten past recognition with the Book of Laws, a church guidebook Henrietta was known to carry everywhere. As the mystery mounts, Gogebic—with little to no help from cash-strapped state investigators in addition to an electoral challenge for his job as sheriff—must answer a disturbing set of questions not only about the murder but about the town he calls home. Swift’s story has a distinctive voice that may be refreshing to regular readers of crime novels. Despite this unique approach, the novel struggles to maintain a steady appeal. Players often react in ways inconsistent with their characterizations. When the body is discovered and assumed to be Henrietta’s, her finders seem more relieved she is dead than horrified at finding a corpse. Moments like these crop up frequently throughout the story, limiting the effects of the refreshingly original atmosphere Swift otherwise develops. Ultimately, the novel fails to reach its full potential, struggling to build a consistent level of intrigue and suspense that grips readers. 

A unique mystery that lacks pull.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2011

ISBN: 978-1467954174

Page Count: 256

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2012

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Slow moving and richly layered.

THE SEARCHER

A retired cop takes one last case in this stand-alone novel from the creator of the Dublin Murder Squad.

Originally from North Carolina, Cal Hooper has spent the last 30 years in Chicago. “A small place. A small town in a small country”: That’s what he’s searching for when he moves to the West of Ireland. His daughter is grown, his wife has left him, so Cal is on his own—until a kid named Trey starts hanging around. Trey’s brother is missing. Everyone believes that Brendan has run off just like his father did, but Trey thinks there’s more to the story than just another young man leaving his family behind in search of money and excitement in the city. Trey wants the police detective who just emigrated from America to find out what’s really happened to Brendan. French is deploying a well-worn trope here—in fact, she’s deploying a few. Cal is a new arrival to an insular community, and he’s about to discover that he didn’t leave crime and violence behind when he left the big city. Cal is a complex enough character, though, and it turns out that the mystery he’s trying to solve is less shocking than what he ultimately discovers. French's latest is neither fast-paced nor action-packed, and it has as much to do with Cal’s inner life as it does with finding Brendan. Much of what mystery readers are looking for in terms of action is squeezed into the last third of the novel, and the morally ambiguous ending may be unsatisfying for some. But French’s fans have surely come to expect imperfect allegiance to genre conventions, and the author does, ultimately, deliver plenty of twists, shocking revelations, and truly chilling moments.

Slow moving and richly layered.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-73-522465-0

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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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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