Block telegraphs every single plot twist shortly before it arrives, and the results are pulpy, ritualistic, and satisfying—a...

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SINNER MAN

Fans impatient for the latest from prolific Block (The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes, 2015, etc.) will rejoice at the rediscovery of his very first novel, first published in 1968, eight years after he finished writing it, as Savage Lover.

Both titles fit the story as snugly as the shell of a hard-boiled egg. Danbury, Connecticut, insurance salesman Donald Barshter slugs his wife, Ellen, the wrong way during one of their periodic domestic tiffs, and she doesn’t get up. After briefly entertaining the idea of phoning the police, Don decides instead to stuff the body into a closet all weekend till he can tap his bank account Monday morning and then head for Buffalo—big enough to get lost in, small enough to keep from running into anyone likely to recognize him. Once ensconced in the Malmsly Hotel, he studiously adopts the role of Nathaniel Crowley, the new tough guy in town, picking a fight with a hapless local, paying an available chambermaid for sex, and cultivating the friendship of Tony Quince, a barfly whose interest in him sends him to Lou Baron, who pretty much runs things in Buffalo. Baron offers Crowley a job tending bar at Round Seven, where it’s understood that half his earnings will come from robbing the till. So far, so peaceful, but hardly has Crowley settled into his sinecure, following evenings at Round Seven with nights under the covers with game blonde Anne Bishop as he gradually becomes the hard case he pretended to be, than an unwelcome complication arises. Baron, Quince informs Crowley, is on his way out, and Crowley must pick whose side to take in the coming blood bath: the old boss who got him started or the competitor who’s tipped him off.

Block telegraphs every single plot twist shortly before it arrives, and the results are pulpy, ritualistic, and satisfying—a guilty pleasure packed into a time capsule from 1960.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-78565-134-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Hard Case Crime

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2016

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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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