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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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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POP GOES THE WEASEL

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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