First-timer Heaberlin combines equal parts gruesome (a mummified child’s finger) and poignant (Tommie’s niece’s brain tumor)...

PLAYING DEAD

Every family has a deep dark secret. Maybe more than one.

When the letter arrives in Ponder, Texas, Tommie McCloud thinks it’s the work of a scam artist. After 42 readings of it, she’s not so sure. Could this Chicagoan claiming to be her mother, telling her that she was really the Adriana who had been kidnapped just after her first birthday, that her father was crime boss Anthony Marchetti, be telling the truth? Tommie can’t ask the man who raised her, a retired federal marshal who just passed away. The woman she’s always believed to be her mother has Alzheimer’s, and her brother Tuck perished in a car accident when he was 18. But her sister Sadie remembers overhearing a conversation between their parents that might lend credence to the letter. When Jack Smith, supposedly a reporter, pops up on the family’s doorstep to write about Tommie’s work healing traumatized kids with horseback-riding therapy, she’s suspicious. What reporter wears an ankle holster under his jeans? With assists from Hudson, a former boyfriend with lifetime access to FBI files (don’t ask), Tommie discovers ties to a girl’s unsolved murder, the slaughter years back of an FBI agent and his family, and Smith’s true agenda: confronting Marchetti, recently incarcerated in Texas. Still, Tommie’s confused about the contents of two bank vaults maintained by her mother. Deciphering their meaning will reveal more than one family secret, but not before Tommie is tailed, assaulted, shot at and finally saved by the intervention of Marchetti.

First-timer Heaberlin combines equal parts gruesome (a mummified child’s finger) and poignant (Tommie’s niece’s brain tumor) with perhaps a smidgen too many secrets for a single plot. 

Pub Date: May 29, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-345-52701-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 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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