An atmospheric but feckless and sometimes incoherent whodunit.


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.


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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After a flight in fantasy with When the Wind Blows (1998), Patterson goes to ground with another slash-and-squirm psychokiller page-turner, this one dedicated to “the millions of Alex Cross readers, who so frequently ask, can’t you write faster?” By day, Geoffrey Shafer is a charming, 42-year-old British Embassy paper-pusher with a picture-perfect family and a shady past as an MI-6 secret agent. Come sundown, he swallows a pharmacy of psychoactive pills, gulps three black coffees loaded with sugar, and roams the streets of Washington, D.C., in a battered cab, where, disguised as a black man, he rolls dice to determine which among his black female fares he—ll murder. Afterwards he dumps his naked victims in crime-infested back alleys of black- slum neighborhoods, then sends e-mails boasting of his accomplishments to three other former MI-6 agents involved in a hellish Internet role-playing game. “I sensed I was at the start of another homicide mess,” sighs forensic-psychologist turned homicide-detective Alex Cross. Cross yearns to catch the “Jane Doe murderer” but is thwarted by Det. Chief George Pittman, who assigns sexy Det. Patsy Hampton to investigate Cross and come up with a reason for dismissing him. Meanwhile, Cross’s fiancÇe is kidnaped during a Bermuda vacation, and an anonymous e-mail warns him to back off. He doesn’t, of course, and just when it appears that Patterson is sleep-walking through his story, Cross nabs Shafer minutes after Shafer kills Det. Hampton. During the subsequent high-visibility trail, Shafer manages to make the jury believe that he’s innocent and that Cross was trying to frame him. When all seems lost, a sympathetic British intelligence chief offers to help Cross bring down Shafer, and the other homicidal game-players, during a showdown on the breezy beaches of Jamaica. Kinky mayhem, a cartoonish villain, regular glimpses of the kindly Cross caring for his loved ones, and an ending that spells a sequel: Patterson’s fans couldn’t ask for more.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-69328-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1999

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