Slick, efficient and spare, this story smokes like a well-rolled cigar.

SWEET MARY

Pulitzer Prize–winning Florida journalist Balmaseda makes her fiction debut with a fast-paced tale of mistaken identity and gutsy vigilante justice.

The quick-thinking, ambitious daughter of Cuban immigrants, Dulce Maria Guevara isn’t above climbing a stripper pole to make the sale on a million-dollar pleasure pad, a gambit that gets her the coveted top-seller pin in her real-estate group. This tough-minded divorcée is a totally together player on the Miami real-estate scene, supporting her son Max as well as (at the behest of her guilt-wielding mother) her deadbeat rapper brother. Life is good until DEA agents kick in her front door and drag her off as alleged cocaine queen Maria Guevara Portilla, aka “La Reina.” Our Maria is acquitted, but not before her slimeball ex-husband uses her misfortune to gain temporary custody of their son. The taint of accusation puts her real-estate career on hold, leaving her no choice but to take the law, which is riddled with nincompoops, into her own hands. She sets out to track down her doppelgänger and bring her to justice. Spelunking in Miami’s seamy narcotics and racketeering underworld requires help from her old sweetheart Joe Pratts, against whose seductive pull Guevara is less than immune. She learns as much about herself as she does about her target as she follows leads and matches wits with darkly comical characters tied to the cartel of which La Reina is believed to be the head. She’s helped by Pratt’s underworld connections (the ones that made her quit him in the first place) as well as shooting lessons from her gun-toting best friend, but ultimately it’s Sweet Mary versus the cocaine queen, who has hidden herself away behind the sleepy veneer of suburban Florida. Guevara is a classic noir figure with tons of heart; her first-person narrative chronicles Sweet Mary’s exploits with plenty of local color and lively background characters.

Slick, efficient and spare, this story smokes like a well-rolled cigar.

Pub Date: July 14, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4165-4296-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2009

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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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Proficient but eminently predictable. Amid all the time shifts and embedded backstories, the most surprising feature is how...

THE A LIST

A convicted killer’s list of five people he wants dead runs the gamut from the wife he’s already had murdered to franchise heroine Ali Reynolds.

Back in the day, women came from all over to consult Santa Clarita fertility specialist Dr. Edward Gilchrist. Many of them left his care happily pregnant, never dreaming that the father of the babies they carried was none other than the physician himself, who donated his own sperm rather than that of the handsome, athletic, disease-free men pictured in his scrapbook. When Alexandra Munsey’s son, Evan, is laid low by the kidney disease he’s inherited from his biological father and she returns to Gilchrist in search of the donor’s medical records, the roof begins to fall in on him. By the time it’s done falling, he’s serving a life sentence in Folsom Prison for commissioning the death of his wife, Dawn, the former nurse and sometime egg donor who’d turned on him. With nothing left to lose, Gilchrist tattoos himself with the initials of five people he blames for his fall: Dawn; Leo Manuel Aurelio, the hit man he’d hired to dispose of her; Kaitlyn Todd, the nurse/receptionist who took Dawn’s place; Alex Munsey, whose search for records upset his apple cart; and Ali Reynolds, the TV reporter who’d helped put Alex in touch with the dozen other women who formed the Progeny Project because their children looked just like hers. No matter that Ali’s been out of both California and the news business for years; Gilchrist and his enablers know that revenge can’t possibly be served too cold. Wonder how far down that list they’ll get before Ali, aided once more by Frigg, the methodical but loose-cannon AI first introduced in Duel to the Death (2018), turns on them?

Proficient but eminently predictable. Amid all the time shifts and embedded backstories, the most surprising feature is how little the boundary-challenged AI, who gets into the case more or less inadvertently, differs from your standard human sidekick with issues.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5101-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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