A nice portrait of loss and discovery, carefully drawn and intelligently narrated but without much to distinguish itself.

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THE PATRON SAINT OF RED CHEVYS

Second-novelist Sloan (Worry Beads, 1991) introduces us to a Mississippi teenager and her family in the years after the murder of her mother.

Biloxi, Mississippi, isn’t the easiest place in the world to keep a secret, and it’s hardly synonymous with crimes of passion, either. So how come seventh-grader Jubilee Starling can’t figure out who killed her mother Bernice and Bernice’s secret lover, Levi Litwak, in April of 1964? Bernice was stabbed to death sitting in her red Chevy pickup in the driveway to their garage, while Levi died a few hours later in a car crash. A local TV weatherman, Levi was widely reviled in Biloxi as a Yankee Jew (and, some claimed, a political agitator), and the local Klan had gone so far as to put him on their death list. But a few days after the deaths, a local newspaper receives a suicide letter that Levi posted before his accident, in which he confesses to murdering Bernice because she wouldn’t leave her husband to marry him. Case closed? Not quite. Jubilee is suspicious, and she proceeds to drive around in her mom’s old car (“the death truck”) asking questions. From what she hears, Levi doesn’t sound at all like the killing sort, but she draws a blank when she considers the alternatives. Jubilee’s father would have had the motive, but he’s even less bloodthirsty than Levi was. There’s always the Klan, of course, but why would they have bothered themselves over Bernice? Years go by and Jubilee moves on to Berkeley, then college, and goes through the summer of love before returning to Biloxi and picking up what looks like an insuperable mystery. What was it Eliot said about coming home and knowing the place for the first time? Sometimes it works that way.

A nice portrait of loss and discovery, carefully drawn and intelligently narrated but without much to distinguish itself.

Pub Date: July 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-57962-104-X

Page Count: 220

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2004

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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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Locke’s advancement here is so bracing that you can’t wait to discover what happens next along her East Texas highway.

HEAVEN, MY HOME

The redoubtable Locke follows up her Edgar-winning Bluebird, Bluebird (2017) with an even knottier tale of racism and deceit set in the same scruffy East Texas boondocks.

It’s the 2016 holiday season, and African American Texas Ranger Darren Matthews has plenty of reasons for disquiet besides the recent election results. Chiefly there’s the ongoing fallout from Darren’s double murder investigation involving the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. He and his wife are in counseling. He’s become a “desk jockey” in the Rangers’ Houston office while fending off suspicions from a district attorney who thinks Darren hasn’t been totally upfront with him about a Brotherhood member’s death. (He hasn’t.) And his not-so-loving mother is holding on to evidence that could either save or crucify him with the district attorney. So maybe it’s kind of a relief for Darren to head for the once-thriving coastal town of Jefferson, where the 9-year-old son of another Brotherhood member serving hard time for murdering a black man has gone missing while motorboating on a nearby lake. Then again, there isn’t that much relief given the presence of short-fused white supremacists living not far from descendants of the town’s original black and Native American settlers—one of whom, an elderly black man, is a suspect in the possible murder of the still-missing boy. Meanwhile, Darren’s cultivating his own suspicions of chicanery involving the boy’s wealthy and imperious grandmother, whose own family history is entwined with the town’s antebellum past and who isn’t so fazed with her grandson’s disappearance that she can’t have a lavish dinner party at her mansion. In addition to her gifts for tight pacing and intense lyricism, Locke shows with this installment of her Highway 59 series a facility for unraveling the tangled strands of the Southwest’s cultural legacy and weaving them back together with the volatile racial politics and traumatic economic stresses of the present day. With her confident narrative hands on the wheel, this novel manages to evoke a portrait of Trump-era America—which, as someone observes of a pivotal character in the story, resembles “a toy ball tottering on a wire fence” that “could fall either way.”

Locke’s advancement here is so bracing that you can’t wait to discover what happens next along her East Texas highway.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-36340-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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