THE DELTA STAR

What could possibly be the connection between the 1981 Soviet-sub-in-Sweden crisis (the prologue here) and the cops of the L.A.P.D.'s Rampart Station? That's the puzzle in the background that holds together, more or less, Wambaugh's latest, loosest grabbag of gross cop behavior, morgue slapstick, moody sleuthing, and black-comic misery. As usual, much time is spent in a cop hangout: this time it's Leery's Saloon, a.k.a. The House of Misery—where the "Bad Czech" (a dangerously yet lovably disturbed cop) delivers diatribes against Jerry Brown and others; where a cop near retirement counts the hours, terrified that something will go wrong; where the boozing and boogaloo-ing (with cop-groupies or Amazonian policewoman "Jane Wayne") is frantic; and where, most hilariously/disgustingly, the K-9 corps indulges too—in beer and sex-fantasies. But, while previous Wambaughs tended to center around the serious, alcoholic unhappiness of one or two characters, here the central cop—rather bland Detective Marie Villalobos—is only mildly depressed; and the prime off-and-on focus is instead on his murder investigation, the one that'll eventually link up to that USSR-sub affair. The murder victim: prostitute Missy Moonbeam. . . who, it seems, was somehow involved with a science-groupie pimp and a scientist from Caltech. (Among the leads: info from Missy's hysterical homosexual chum—and a stolen American Express card which the Bad Czech just happens to pick up by mistake in a Chinese restaurant.) So Villalobos and the Bad Czech are soon sleuthing on campus—with wildly funny culture clashes and the gradual exposure of a plan to influence, via blackmail, a Nobel Prize decision (already affected, you see, by the strained Sweden/USSR relations). Still, though Wambaugh's mystery-plot is more than serviceable, it's merely a frame for the glimpses of cop-misery (less effective than usual) and the ugly/goofy vignettes, which sometimes make The Hill Street Blues look like Heidi. (E.g., the Bad Czech's attempts to lynch a bum or pump all the blood out of a wounded suspect.) So, even more than before, it's hold on to your stomachs, forget about traditional police-novel satisfactions—and enjoy (if that's the word) Wambaugh's gritty, ghoulish flights of almost-fancy as a freeform side-show: sorely uneven, but undeniably vivid and occasionally inspired.

Pub Date: March 4, 1982

ISBN: 0553273868

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1982

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Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

CROOKED RIVER

FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast finds evil afoot in his latest action-filled adventure (Verses for the Dead, 2018, etc.).

Imagine Florida beachcombers’ shock when they discover a shoe with a severed foot inside. Soon they see dozens more feet, all in identical shoes, bobbing toward the beach. Police and FBI ultimately count more than a hundred of them washing up on Sanibel and Captiva Islands' tranquil shores. Pendergast teams up with the junior Special Agent Armstrong Coldmoon to investigate this strange phenomenon. Oceanographers use a supercomputer to analyze Gulf currents and attempt to determine where the feet entered the ocean. Were they dumped off a ship or an island? Does each one represent a homicide? Analysts examine chemical residues and pollen, even the angle of each foot’s amputation, but the puzzle defies all explanation. Attention focuses on Cuba, where “something terrible was happening” in front of a coastal prison, and on China, the apparent source of the shoes. The clever plot is “a most baffling case indeed” for the brilliant Pendergast, but it’s the type of problem he thrives on. He’s hardly a stereotypical FBI agent, given for example his lemon-colored silk suit, his Panama hat, and his legendary insistence on working alone—until now. Pendergast rarely blinks—perhaps, someone surmises, he’s part reptile. But equally odd is Constance Greene, his “extraordinarily beautiful,” smart, and sarcastic young “ward” who has “eyes that had seen everything and, as a result, were surprised by nothing.” Coldmoon is more down to earth: part Lakota, part Italian, and “every inch a Fed.” Add in murderous drug dealers, an intrepid newspaper reporter, coyotes crossing the U.S.–Mexico border, and a pissed-off wannabe graphic novelist, and you have a thoroughly entertaining cast of characters. There is plenty of suspense, and the action gets bloody.

Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4725-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Proficient but eminently predictable. Amid all the time shifts and embedded backstories, the most surprising feature is how...

THE A LIST

A convicted killer’s list of five people he wants dead runs the gamut from the wife he’s already had murdered to franchise heroine Ali Reynolds.

Back in the day, women came from all over to consult Santa Clarita fertility specialist Dr. Edward Gilchrist. Many of them left his care happily pregnant, never dreaming that the father of the babies they carried was none other than the physician himself, who donated his own sperm rather than that of the handsome, athletic, disease-free men pictured in his scrapbook. When Alexandra Munsey’s son, Evan, is laid low by the kidney disease he’s inherited from his biological father and she returns to Gilchrist in search of the donor’s medical records, the roof begins to fall in on him. By the time it’s done falling, he’s serving a life sentence in Folsom Prison for commissioning the death of his wife, Dawn, the former nurse and sometime egg donor who’d turned on him. With nothing left to lose, Gilchrist tattoos himself with the initials of five people he blames for his fall: Dawn; Leo Manuel Aurelio, the hit man he’d hired to dispose of her; Kaitlyn Todd, the nurse/receptionist who took Dawn’s place; Alex Munsey, whose search for records upset his apple cart; and Ali Reynolds, the TV reporter who’d helped put Alex in touch with the dozen other women who formed the Progeny Project because their children looked just like hers. No matter that Ali’s been out of both California and the news business for years; Gilchrist and his enablers know that revenge can’t possibly be served too cold. Wonder how far down that list they’ll get before Ali, aided once more by Frigg, the methodical but loose-cannon AI first introduced in Duel to the Death (2018), turns on them?

Proficient but eminently predictable. Amid all the time shifts and embedded backstories, the most surprising feature is how little the boundary-challenged AI, who gets into the case more or less inadvertently, differs from your standard human sidekick with issues.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5101-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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