This debut novel resembles a series of trap doors springing open and shut and open again without a whole lot of rhythm or...


A post-millennial gothic ripsnorter blends old-fashioned suspense and up-to-the-minute sadism in the dark streets and even darker underbelly of Edinburgh.

Suppose the movies weren’t the invention of Thomas Edison or the Lumiére brothers but of a long-missing-and-presumed-dead figure named Augustin Sekuler? In this intricately designed thriller, the name of Sekuler (“heavily based,” according to the author, on the real-life French inventor Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince) re-emerges in the autumn of 2002 when a shady art collector named Andrew Valdano asks Alex Whitman, a mordant movie memorabilia expert, to check out the possibility that Sekuler’s only feature, Séance Infernale, may exist in fragments all over Europe. The film was supposedly made before both Sekuler and his groundbreaking “moving picture machine” vanished without a trace on a Paris-bound train in 1890. For Whitman, this quest means encountering old ghosts, including that of his long-missing-and-presumed-dead daughter, Ellie, who vanished in the midst of Edinburgh’s plague of viciously murdered young girls; a plague that, apparently, still goes on. When Whitman’s pursuit of Sekuler’s film takes him to that macabre-but-magical Scottish city, menace seems to be stalking him as well as Elena, Sekuler’s dark-haired and crimson-nailed great-granddaughter, who may or may not be a trustworthy source. The search for Séance is interspersed with the investigation into the kidnap-murders by a team led by the intense DS Georgina McBride, whose own inquiry soon intersects with Whitman’s. And to further complicate matters, someone else is looking for Sekuler’s film and has recruited some nasty aides to help thwart both Whitman and McBride. The melodrama at times carries hoary whiffs of the old penny dreadfuls. One of the characters is actually caught saying, “He’s not going to get away with this!” To which you want to respond, “Well, now that you’ve actually said so, of course he isn’t!” Yes, it’s almost like watching a movie you can’t help talking back to.

This debut novel resembles a series of trap doors springing open and shut and open again without a whole lot of rhythm or logic. Nevertheless, its basic premise fascinates, and its fog-shrouded intrigue keeps your head in the game.

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-94673-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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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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