With its flat, staccato tone and mournful mood, it’s almost as if the book itself were suffering from depression.

LONG BRIGHT RIVER

A young Philadelphia policewoman searches for her addicted sister on the streets.

The title of Moore’s (The Unseen World, 2016, etc.) fourth novel refers to “a long bright river of departed souls,” the souls of people dead from opioid overdoses in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Kensington. The book opens with a long paragraph that's just a list of names, most of whom don’t have a role in the plot, but the last two entries are key: “Our mother. Our father.” As the novel opens, narrator Mickey Fitzpatrick—a bright but emotionally damaged single mom—is responding with her partner to a call. A dead girl has turned up in an abandoned train yard frequented by junkies. Mickey is terrified that it will be her estranged sister, Kacey, whom she hasn’t seen in a while. The two were raised by their grandmother, a cold, bitter woman who never recovered from the overdose death of the girls' mother. Mickey herself is awkward and tense in all social situations; when she talks about her childhood she mentions watching the other kids from the window, trying to memorize their mannerisms so she could “steal them and use them [her]self.” She is close with no one except her 4-year-old son, Thomas, whom she barely sees because she works so much, leaving him with an unenthusiastic babysitter. Opioid abuse per se is not the focus of the action—the book centers on the search for Kacey. Obsessed with the possibility that her sister will end up dead before she can find her, Mickey breaches protocol and makes a series of impulsive decisions that get her in trouble. The pace is frustratingly slow for most of the book, then picks up with a flurry of revelations and developments toward the end, bringing characters onstage we don’t have enough time to get to know. The narrator of this atmospheric crime novel has every reason to be difficult and guarded, but the reader may find her no easier to bond with than the other characters do.

With its flat, staccato tone and mournful mood, it’s almost as if the book itself were suffering from depression.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54067-0

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 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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Brown’s ear for Texas dialect and her earnest characterizations of cynical lawmen with stout hearts make for an enjoyable...

TOUGH CUSTOMER

A manhunt for a homicidal stalker reunites an ex-cop and his long-lost daughter, in Brown’s latest thriller (Rainwater, 2009).

Private eye Dodge Hanley, who left the Houston police for Atlanta years before, is summoned back to Texas by his long-ago flame Caroline King, now a successful realtor. Caroline wants Dodge, who once rescued her from an abusive fiancé, to lend his sleuthing skills to find Oren Starks, the man who burst in on her daughter Berry and Berry’s co-worker Ben at Caroline’s lake house near the small town of Merritt. Shooting and wounding Ben, Oren fled, but not before vowing to murder Berry. A dismissed co-worker at the Houston marketing firm where Berry and Ben work, Oren was unhinged by his thwarted efforts to woo Berry and another colleague, Sally Buckland. Dodge (who, unbeknownst to Berry, is her father) and local deputy Ski Nyland join forces to track Oren down. Ski’s call to Sally finds her strangely reluctant to corroborate her previous claim of sexual harassment against Oren, perhaps because Oren has a gun to her head during the call. Despite a leg injury sustained at Caroline’s house, Oren confounds pursuers by somehow managing to be in several places at once. He breaks into a Merritt motel room, fatally wounding a teenager who surprises him there. Sally’s body is found hanging in the closet of Berry’s Houston home. Oren takes an elderly couple hostage in a campground, and kills again before disappearing into the Big Thicket, a treacherous, swampy national park. Brown’s trademark romance spiced with raunch serves her well as she orchestrates two parallel lust stories: Caroline’s and Dodge’s passionate but brief encounter in 1978, and the present frisson between Berry and Dodge’s younger doppelgänger, hard-boiled cop Ski. The narrative, slowed by too many talky scenes and descriptive filler, eventually rewards readers’ patience with a bang-up surprise ending. 

Brown’s ear for Texas dialect and her earnest characterizations of cynical lawmen with stout hearts make for an enjoyable summer read.

Pub Date: Aug. 12, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4165-6310-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2010

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