Black Lotus

In Lepie’s debut mystery, the murder of an undercover cop gives police detective Lotus Williams a chance to resuscitate her career.
Williams has been watching soaps and smoking marijuana ever since cancer killed her daughter, Jewel, but her use of cocaine cost her her job at the Lofton, New York, police department. She gets clean after an old friend, a cop named Jimmy O’Roark, arrives on her doorstep. It turns out that Francesca Corelli, the charismatic, beautiful police chief of the town of New Parise, is offering her a fresh start. Williams soon delves into an investigation of the death of an undercover officer who’d been embedded in the town’s leading drug gang, run by an African-American albino man named Charles Himmel, also known as Snow Black. One of Williams’ old Vassar classmates, Vanessa King, lived out Williams’ dream of graduating from Harvard Law, but a law partner’s racial slur prompted her to work for Himmel. King argues that Himmel brings work and money to the black community by supplying a consumer good. (It’s a drug-lord-as-CEO model that’s similar to the one personified by Stringer Bell in the TV show The Wire.) King accuses the local mob, run by Pauli Trinceri, of killing the cop; they’re also suspected in the murder of Corelli’s father, the previous police chief. Jean “Zazz” Zazzinsky, a lesbian reporter fired from the local newspaper, is investigating that crime, despite Corelli’s antagonism; depending on who’s telling the story, Zazz is unhinged and obsessed with Francesca Corelli, or a threat to a powerful woman who has something to hide. The first-person narration shifts between various characters, including Williams, Zazz, other police officers and Butch Roman, the chief’s Italian-American bodybuilder lover. They speak as if to an off-screen interviewer, but the narrative transitions can sometimes be jarring and awkward. Although the storyline feels like a mashup of familiar mobster and gangster plots, its awareness of race, gender and sexual orientation shades it with greater depth. Williams, meanwhile, comes off as both soulful and hard-boiled, a woman who’s suffered, yet still strives to do right in a compromised world.
A standard-issue noir tale featuring a nonstandard detective.

Pub Date: May 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-1490566467

Page Count: 190

Publisher: Treasure Chest Press

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2014

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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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Joe’s fifth case is his best balanced, most deeply felt and most mystifying to date: an absolute must.

OUT OF RANGE

Crime-fighting Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett outdoes himself during a temporary transfer from sleepy Saddlestring to fashionable Jackson Hole.

Will Jensen, the Jackson game warden, was a great guy and a model warden, but once his wife left him six months ago, he spiraled into madness and suicide, and now Joe’s been called to replace him. The transition is anything but smooth. There’s no question of Joe’s family coming with him, so he’s reduced to hoping he can get a signal for the cell-phone calls he squeezes into his busy schedule. En route to his new posting, Joe has to pursue a marauding grizzly. He arrives to meet a formidable series of challenges. Cantankerous outfitter Smoke Van Horn wants to go on attracting elk with illegal salt licks without the new warden’s interference. Animal Liberation Network activist Pi Stevenson wants him to publicize her cause and adopt a vegan diet. Developer Don Ennis wants to open a housing development for millionaires who like their meat free of additives. Ennis’s trophy wife Stella simply wants Joe—and he wants her back. As he wrestles with these demands, and with a supervisor riled over Joe’s track record of destroying government property in pursuit of bad guys (Trophy Hunt, 2004, etc.), Joe slowly becomes convinced that Will did not kill himself.

Joe’s fifth case is his best balanced, most deeply felt and most mystifying to date: an absolute must.

Pub Date: May 5, 2005

ISBN: 0-399-15291-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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