An atmospheric but feckless and sometimes incoherent whodunit.

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RETURN OF THE LOST JITNEY

A down-on-his luck black cab driver investigates a pair of murders for lack of better options in this debut mystery.

It’s the dog days of the Carter administration, and Brian Layne languishes in the Pittsburgh ghetto version of national malaise. He lost his job as an airline ramp agent three years ago when he punched out a supervisor who uttered a racial slur. Since then Brian’s been collecting unemployment checks and driving an illegal jitney cab, the land-line version of Uber. Worse, his marriage has come apart since he found his wife in bed with a low-life named William Anderson “Billy-Mack” Macklin III (though assignations with sexy secretary Claudia console him). Employment opportunities are limited—a job interview goes south when Parrish Richards, the squirrely interrogator, inexplicably pulls a gun—so Brian spends his days waiting for calls with the other drivers at the jitney station, where the main pastime is hiding joints from the neighborhood cops. A slow-to-begin plot kicks in when Brian discovers Billy-Mack slumped over the wheel of his car with a fatal hole in his jugular. At the request of Billy-Mack’s grieving mother, Estelle, and to put his unused criminology degree to work, Brian starts poking around the killing in a desultory fashion that turns steadier after she offers him $700. When Richards turns up shot, Brian folds that death into his amateur caseload too. His investigative methods are less than dynamic—searching real estate and probate records; asking folks in the ’hood if they know anything—but as his suspect list grows to include a local drug dealer and the racist airline boss, they get him targeted by death threats and potshots. Reminiscent of Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins mysteries, Griffen’s detective yarn features some colorful characters, well-observed dialogue, and vivid evocations of a nighttime ghetto where “the ‘leisure ladies’ were swinging to the ditty bop, reggae beats.” Unfortunately, the novel drops several of the most intriguing players, and the plotting becomes a mess. Brian’s investigation makes little headway until, toward the end, a new character arrives out of the blue and carpet-bombs him with revelations; the climactic scene is missing; and the murderer’s self-contradictory machinations make no sense. Readers may feel as lost at the end of the book as Brian was at the beginning.

An atmospheric but feckless and sometimes incoherent whodunit.

Pub Date: Dec. 20, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4809-6833-2

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Rosedog Books

Review Posted Online: March 20, 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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