IN THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW

The plucky mother of a kidnapped child and a jaded ex-cop join forces to snare a sadistic child killer, in this latest by true- crime writer (Esther, 1994) and historical novelist (Star of Empire, 1992) Sanders. Widowed Manhattanite Rachel Shelby is driving her two children across country when her car is blindsided in a small Oklahoma town. She wakes up in the hospital to discover that her daughter is missing. It seems that Suzanne, a pint-sized 11-year-old and star of a hit movie, disappeared in the chaos surrounding the fiery wreck. Frustrated with the local cops, Rachel hires Booker Reeves, a retired detective, to help find her daughter. Booker's research quickly uncovers a number of cases that seem related—young girls who have been snatched in broad daylight in the region. Several bodies have been discovered: One had an odd bite mark, another was covered in something like saliva. And many more were never found. Cut to Suzanne in her abductor's barn, next to a caged 32-foot python. (Guess where those missing bodies went.) It appears that the snake man, a heroin addict, is aroused by others' fear. Dr. Patricia McMahon, a forensic psychiatrist, is brought into the investigation: She and Booker concoct the scheme of advertising a reward for information on billboards. Rachel mans the phones and establishes contact with the snake man, who indeed takes the bait. Too wily to think that he could get away with the money, he shoots his way into Rachel's hotel room, hoping to find it there. But the money is in a local bank. He kidnaps Rachel and brings her back to the barn for a complicated climatic showdown. Booker, meanwhile, is working the snake angle (thanks to the bite on that earlier victim), but will he show up in time to save Rachel? A grisly but well-oiled page turner, marred by an over-the-top ending.

Pub Date: July 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-7867-0306-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1996

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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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