FUGITIVE NIGHTS

Wambaugh (The Golden Orange, 1990, etc.) returns to a familiar venue: glittering Palm Springs, its cops, and nearby desert canyons. This is at heart a comic novel (though not as antic as a Donald Westlake) that depends mostly on vulgar police humor for its laughs. Wambaugh circles about one of his favorite recent heroes, the alcoholic cop who will strive for recovery before story's end. Detective Lynn Cutter has screwed up so heartily with the Palm Springs PD that he is awaiting his disability pension after 20 years in the service and, while nursing his busted and irreparable knees, house-sits the mansions of wealthy local owners and drinks up his earnings at The Furnace Room, a dingy hangout for faded actors and washed-out entertainment folk. Breda Burrows, herself an ex-cop with 20 years service and now trying to make a go of her newly opened private investigation office, hires Cutter to moonlight and help out with a fresh ease that has too many leads for her to handle alone. That case, which takes up a lot of time, turns out to be a red herring in terms of much action or tension, while the hard villainy remains largely in the background until the last pages and then reverses itself to plead for the reader's sympathy. The first case is a domestic surveillance in which a postmenopausal childless wife wants her millionaire husband shadowed: She knows that the old guy has made a secret deposit at a sperm bank and is apparently thinking of in vitro fertilization with a surrogate. The second case is darker: A bald Mexican drug smuggler who's hiding out in Palm Springs somehow seems tied in with the millionaire. The two detectives are joined by Nelson Hareem, a legendary screw-up from a neighboring police force, who lusts to join the Palm Springs PD by solving the drug-smuggler case. The climax is a golf-cart chase during the Bob Hope golf classic. The thuggish jokery does not endear. Wambaugh cannot write a total wipeout but this is not among his strongest or more durable works.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 1992

ISBN: 0-688-11128-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1991

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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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Creepy, violent, and propulsive; a standout gothic mystery.

THINGS IN JARS

Lady detective Bridie Devine searches for a missing child and finds much more than she bargained for.

Bridie Devine is no stranger to the seedy underworld of Victorian London. An accomplished detective with medical training, she sometimes helps the police by examining bodies to determine the cause of death. Bridie recently failed to find a lost child, and when she’s approached about another missing child, the daughter of Sir Edmund Berwick, she isn’t enthusiastic about taking on the case. But Christabel Berwick is no ordinary child. Sir Edmund has hidden Christabel away her whole life and wants Bridie to believe this is an ordinary kidnapping. Bridie does a little digging and learns that Christabel isn’t his daughter so much as his prized specimen. Sir Edmund believes Christabel is a “merrow,” a darker and less romanticized version of a mermaid. Bridie is skeptical, but there are reports of Christabel’s sharp teeth, color-changing eyes, and ability to drown people on dry land. Given that Bridie’s new companion is a ghost who refuses to tell her why he’s haunting her, Bridie might want to open her mind a bit. There’s a lot going on in this singular novel, and none of it pretty. Bridie’s London is soaked with mud and blood, and her past is nightmarish at best. Kidd (Mr. Flood’s Last Resort, 2018, etc.) is an expert at setting a supernatural mood perfect for ghosts and merrows, but her human villains make them seem mundane by comparison. With so much detail and so many clever, Dickensian characters, readers might petition Kidd to give Bridie her own series.

Creepy, violent, and propulsive; a standout gothic mystery.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-2128-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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