A sad, swift tale bearing rueful observations about color and class as urgent now as 24 years ago.

THREE-FIFTHS

A savage hate crime impels a young man toward a deeper reckoning with his biracial identity.

Vercher’s debut novel is a blunt-edged thriller in which several disquieting revelations are set in motion on a snowy night in Pittsburgh circa 1995 when Bobby Saraceno, a 22-year-old restaurant worker, is pleasantly surprised to reunite with Aaron, his best friend from school days, who has just been paroled after a three-year prison stretch. Bobby notices his one-time fellow comic-book nerd has come out of stir bearing a “Hulked-out” physique along with a deep facial scar. Soon Bobby notices something else Aaron’s carrying: tattoos with lightning bolts and an Iron Eagle. They encounter a young black man at a fast-food diner who recognizes those tattoos as white supremacist insignia. He harangues them both toward the parking lot, where Aaron sets upon the black youth and repeatedly pounds his head with a brick. “Some animals need to be put down,” Aaron says to a stunned Bobby as they drive away from his victim before police arrive. Bobby decides out of loyalty that he’s going to protect himself and his friend from arrest even though Bobby’s carrying a secret that neither Aaron nor anyone else in his life knows: That he is the son of a black man he’s never met who had an affair with his white mother, a hot mess named Isabel who has trouble staying on the wagon. Not only has Bobby been “passing” for white, but even after finding out about his racial origins at age 11, he’s also been carrying some of the same bigoted opinions toward minorities as his maternal grandfather. Matters are complicated when Isabel decides in the midst of this turmoil to introduce Bobby to his father, who it turns out isn’t dead (as Bobby had believed) but alive and well and working as an emergency room doctor at a local hospital.

A sad, swift tale bearing rueful observations about color and class as urgent now as 24 years ago.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-947993-67-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Polis Books

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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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