The story’s fast pace helps it go down easy, but it’s almost all empty calories.

ASSASSIN'S CODE

Even protagonist Joe Ledger, hero of three previous Maberry novels (The King of Plagues, 2011, etc.), knows that the premise of his latest adventure is totally ridiculous: Ledger scoffs at the idea of vampires with nuclear bombs, and Maberry can’t quite make a convincing case for them either.

At first Ledger, an agent with the super-secret Department of Military Sciences, believes he’s tracking some run-of-the-mill terrorists, who’ve planted several nuclear devices in various oil fields around the Middle East. But over the course of two intense, action-packed days, Ledger discovers a centuries-old conspiracy that involves a race known as the Upierczi, vampire-like creatures who are nearly immortal, drink blood, live in the shadows and are vulnerable to garlic. The Upierczi have been used as soldiers in a secret, ongoing pact between underground Christian and Muslim cabals to foster continued animosity between the two religions. Now the vampires are rising up against their masters, and they’re using nuclear weapons as their tools of rebellion. As Ledger and his DMS cohorts race to find and disable the bombs, various other secretive factions maneuver to protect their interests and take out their enemies. After facing down zombies, hybrid monsters and weaponized biblical plagues in previous novels, Ledger still has a tough time wrapping his head around the whole vampire thing, and the novel never really gets past the silliness of its setup. The more Maberry piles on the secret societies and far-reaching conspiracies, the harder it is to invest in the seriousness of the story and in Ledger’s angst about becoming a hollow killing machine. The sarcastic, skeptical Ledger is appealing enough, but his inner struggle (not to mention his potential romance with a deadly assassin known as Violin) is no match for Maberry’s hokey adventure-serial plotting and popcorn-movie action sequences full of meaningless bluster.

The story’s fast pace helps it go down easy, but it’s almost all empty calories.

Pub Date: April 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-55220-6

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

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The perfect gift for well-read mystery mavens who complain that they don’t write them like they used to.

EIGHT PERFECT MURDERS

A ghoulish killer brings a Boston bookseller’s list of perfect fictional murders to life—that is, to repeated, emphatic death.

The Red House Mystery, Malice Aforethought, The A.B.C. Murders, Double Indemnity, Strangers on a Train, The Drowner, Deathtrap, The Secret History: They may not be the best mysteries, reflects Malcolm Kershaw, but they feature the most undetectable murders, as he wrote on a little-read blog post when he was first hired at Old Devils Bookstore. Now that he owns the store with mostly silent partner Brian Murray, a semifamous mystery writer, that post has come back to haunt him. FBI agent Gwen Mulvey has observed at least three unsolved murders, maybe more, that seem to take their cues from the stories on Mal’s list. What does he think about possible links among them? she wonders. The most interesting thing he thinks is something he’s not going to share with her: He’s hiding a secret that would tie him even more closely to that list than she imagines. And while Mal is fretting about what he can do to help stop the violence without tipping his own hand, the killer, clearly untrammeled by any such scruples, continues down the list of fictional blueprints for perfect murders. Swanson (Before She Knew Him, 2019, etc.) jumps the shark early from genre thrills to metafictional puzzles, but despite a triple helping of cleverness that might seem like a fatal overdose, the pleasures of following, and trying to anticipate, a narrator who’s constantly second- and third-guessing himself and everyone around him are authentic and intense. If the final revelations are anticlimactic, that’s only because you wish the mounting complications, like a magician’s showiest routine, could go on forever.

The perfect gift for well-read mystery mavens who complain that they don’t write them like they used to.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-283820-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 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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