A swift but messy heist tale.

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A SINGLE DROP

In this debut crime novel, an accountant stages a robbery to pay off a murderous creditor.

Nosebleed-prone accountant Sterling Charles Russell III has just gotten divorced, and he’s having trouble making ends meet now that so much of his paycheck is going toward alimony. This is before he gets a call from his degenerate gambler father, JR, who owes $40,000 to a dangerous loan shark named Ned the Knees. Ned is the primary suspect in the murder of Sterling’s mother a year before—the first victim of JR’s compulsive gambling. Now Sterling has 28 days to come up with the money or his father will join his mother in the afterlife. A visit to a jeweler client in order to pawn a necklace gives Sterling an idea: “Chapman opened the safe door; diamonds, rings, gold and a stack of cash. Receipts on his desk for tens of thousands of dollars from jewelry brokers. Sterling did his books. He never reported any of these commissions. He was loaded.” The accountant puts a devious one-man plan in place that uses his accounting skills as cover for a heist. Unfortunately, Sterling may have left a single drop of blood from his nose at the scene of the crime. And when the police show up at his apartment the next morning, they aren’t just interested in finding the culprit in the jewelry store robbery, but in a murder that took place not long afterward. Cutts’ narrative is fast-paced and high-stakes, pulling readers through complication after complication. Unfortunately, his choppy prose often gets in the way, robbing the novel of some of it potential immersiveness: “The one on the left was a huge man, about 40; receding hair with a ponytail; two or three days of beard growth; arms the size of Sterling’s leg with too many tattoos to count. He was filthy, smelled and had terrible breath! His only words were, ‘you go there,’ pointing to the top bunk on the other side.” Sterling is a sympathetic figure, but the story is so rushed that there is little time for complex characterization or even suspense. It’s a quick read that will keep the audience engaged, but it could have been much more.

A swift but messy heist tale.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5320-6587-3

Page Count: 210

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Aug. 8, 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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Creepy, violent, and propulsive; a standout gothic mystery.

THINGS IN JARS

Lady detective Bridie Devine searches for a missing child and finds much more than she bargained for.

Bridie Devine is no stranger to the seedy underworld of Victorian London. An accomplished detective with medical training, she sometimes helps the police by examining bodies to determine the cause of death. Bridie recently failed to find a lost child, and when she’s approached about another missing child, the daughter of Sir Edmund Berwick, she isn’t enthusiastic about taking on the case. But Christabel Berwick is no ordinary child. Sir Edmund has hidden Christabel away her whole life and wants Bridie to believe this is an ordinary kidnapping. Bridie does a little digging and learns that Christabel isn’t his daughter so much as his prized specimen. Sir Edmund believes Christabel is a “merrow,” a darker and less romanticized version of a mermaid. Bridie is skeptical, but there are reports of Christabel’s sharp teeth, color-changing eyes, and ability to drown people on dry land. Given that Bridie’s new companion is a ghost who refuses to tell her why he’s haunting her, Bridie might want to open her mind a bit. There’s a lot going on in this singular novel, and none of it pretty. Bridie’s London is soaked with mud and blood, and her past is nightmarish at best. Kidd (Mr. Flood’s Last Resort, 2018, etc.) is an expert at setting a supernatural mood perfect for ghosts and merrows, but her human villains make them seem mundane by comparison. With so much detail and so many clever, Dickensian characters, readers might petition Kidd to give Bridie her own series.

Creepy, violent, and propulsive; a standout gothic mystery.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-2128-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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