An often witty whodunit with heartfelt characters.

DUCK DUCK GATOR

A Brooklyn editor finds himself immersed in the lives of reality TV stars in this comic thriller.

Tony Battaglia makes his living editing reality TV shows. But his best friend and co-worker, Murph, scores him a gig in Louisiana. This time, it’s in front of the cameras for Gator Guys, a series whose star, “Lonnie Junior” Lalonde, was recently in a fatal accident. The editor has just undergone a much-needed heart transplant and, Murph informs him, Lonnie Junior’s heart is now in Tony. In Louisiana, Tony introduces himself as the show’s new leading guy to Lonnie Junior’s family; his girlfriend, Chelsea Granger; and his friend and co-star Mitch “Fudgeround” Arcenaux. And though Tony’s new heart is meant to stay secret until later, he feels obligated to tell each one about it. But there’s even more shocking news: Upon reviewing footage from the morning of Lonnie Junior’s death, Tony sees an unknown figure and consequently suspects murder. Early evidence suggests the killer is Travis Richardson, who stars in a rival show, Mallard Men, with his devoutly religious family. He certainly has a motive, as his girlfriend, Brit Borders, had once been Lonnie Junior’s lover. But Tony and Fudgeround seem convinced that the murderer is someone else and keep close eyes on the Richardsons as well as Brit. Meanwhile, the killer is trying to avoid detection, which may entail pinning the homicide on another person—and committing an additional murder or two in the process.

Wheaton’s tale frequently relies on humor. Tony, for example, gets a lesson from Lonnie Senior on boating in the swamp, as he knows nothing about hunting gators. Tony’s paranoia, which leads him to believe Lonnie Senior has plans to kill him and dump his body in the swamp, is quite funny, especially once the protagonist is on the verge of hyperventilating. There are nevertheless sincere moments that create likable characters. Tony is respectful with Lonnie Junior’s friends and family since he’s worried how they’ll react to hearing about the transplant. He also bonds with Lonnie Senior, Chelsea, and Fudgeround in various ways. Even Lonnie Senior’s dog, Cocoa, warms up to Tony. Other characters are despicable, though this does make it harder to pinpoint the culprit. While the killer’s identity is more or less revealed well before the end, it’s still a treat to watch Tony and Fudgeround investigate, as they’re tenacious despite their apparent lack of experience as sleuths. Comedy again plays a part, namely an argument between the two and Chelsea, who sees no reason to dismiss the evidence against Travis, that’s vigorous and entertaining. The author writes in a no-nonsense style which is typically droll, such as the revelation that someone smells “like gym socks and body odor.” But these blunt descriptions also ignite the senses: “It wasn’t the suffocating heat and humidity Tony’d experienced when he first arrived in Louisiana, but a different breed of damp. Louisiana needed a taxonomy of wet like Eskimos had for snow.”

An often witty whodunit with heartfelt characters.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 221

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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With captivating dialogue, angst-y characters, and a couple of steamy sex scenes, Hoover has done it again.

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REMINDERS OF HIM

After being released from prison, a young woman tries to reconnect with her 5-year-old daughter despite having killed the girl’s father.

Kenna didn’t even know she was pregnant until after she was sent to prison for murdering her boyfriend, Scotty. When her baby girl, Diem, was born, she was forced to give custody to Scotty’s parents. Now that she’s been released, Kenna is intent on getting to know her daughter, but Scotty’s parents won’t give her a chance to tell them what really happened the night their son died. Instead, they file a restraining order preventing Kenna from so much as introducing herself to Diem. Handsome, self-assured Ledger, who was Scotty’s best friend, is another key adult in Diem’s life. He’s helping her grandparents raise her, and he too blames Kenna for Scotty’s death. Even so, there’s something about her that haunts him. Kenna feels the pull, too, and seems to be seeking Ledger out despite his judgmental behavior. As Ledger gets to know Kenna and acknowledges his attraction to her, he begins to wonder if maybe he and Scotty’s parents have judged her unfairly. Even so, Ledger is afraid that if he surrenders to his feelings, Scotty’s parents will kick him out of Diem’s life. As Kenna and Ledger continue to mourn for Scotty, they also grieve the future they cannot have with each other. Told alternatively from Kenna’s and Ledger’s perspectives, the story explores the myriad ways in which snap judgments based on partial information can derail people’s lives. Built on a foundation of death and grief, this story has an undercurrent of sadness. As usual, however, the author has created compelling characters who are magnetic and sympathetic enough to pull readers in. In addition to grief, the novel also deftly explores complex issues such as guilt, self-doubt, redemption, and forgiveness.

With captivating dialogue, angst-y characters, and a couple of steamy sex scenes, Hoover has done it again.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5420-2560-7

Page Count: 335

Publisher: Montlake Romance

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

DREAM TOWN

An old-fashioned gumshoe yarn about Hollywood dreams and dead bodies.

Private investigator Aloysius Archer celebrates New Year’s Eve 1952 in LA with his gorgeous lady friend and aspiring actress Liberty Callahan. Screenwriter Eleanor Lamb shows up and offers to hire him because “someone might be trying to kill me.” “I’m fifty a day plus expenses,” he replies, but money’s no obstacle. Later, he sneaks into Lamb’s house and stumbles upon a body, then gets knocked out by an unseen assailant. Archer takes plenty of physical abuse in the story, but at least he doesn’t get a bullet between the eyes like the guy he trips over. A 30-year-old World War II combat veteran, Archer is a righteous and brave hero. Luck and grit keep him alive in both Vegas and the City of Angels, which is rife with gangsters and crooked cops. Not rich at all, his one luxury is the blood-red 1939 Delahaye he likes to drive with the top down. He’d bought it with his gambling winnings in Reno, and only a bullet hole in the windscreen post mars its perfection. Liberty loves Archer, but will she put up with the daily danger of losing him? Why doesn’t he get a safe job, maybe playing one of LA’s finest on the hit TV show Dragnet? Instead, he’s a tough and principled idealist who wants to make the world a better place. Either that or he’s simply a “pavement-pounding PI on a slow dance to maybe nowhere.” And if some goon doesn’t do him in sooner, his Lucky Strikes will probably do him in later. Baldacci paints a vivid picture of the not-so-distant era when everybody smoked, Joe McCarthy hunted commies, and Marilyn Monroe stirred men’s loins. The 1950s weren’t the fabled good old days, but they’re fodder for gritty crime stories of high ideals and lowlifes, of longing and disappointment, and all the trouble a PI can handle.

Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

Pub Date: April 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5387-1977-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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