While Armstrong’s writing is spot on, the book suffers from the incorporation of reams of unexplained back story, which...

MERCILESS

Romance author turned thriller writer Armstrong continues to chronicle the adventures of former Army sniper turned law enforcement officer Mercy Gunderson in the latest tale set in western South Dakota.

Mercy served a couple of tours in combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, but now she’s home fighting crime and her own demons. Part American Indian, Mercy works alongside FBI Special Agent Shay Turnbull to resolve the murder of Arlette Shooting Star, the niece of the newly elected tribal president. But the stars refuse to align for Mercy and Shay, and soon, there’s a second body to add to the first one. Tiptoeing through the peculiar dance required to investigate crimes involving the reservation and its residents, the two agents spar with tribal police as well as Mercy’s live-in love, Sheriff Mason Dawson. Meanwhile, there’s no love lost between brand-new cop Mercy and the more experienced Shay, either. As Mercy’s life grows more complicated, so does the case, with Mason’s son, Lex, joining them on the ranch and twist after twist piling up the suspects. Armstrong has a knack for presenting a strong sense of place and deftly brings readers onto the reservation to expose them to a culture and way of life that most will find virgin ground. She also has a way with dialogue, spicing both Mercy’s inner and outer voices with humor and a sense of irony. What doesn’t process, though, is her counterintuitive behavior as a cop. Mercy, and on at least one occasion, Shay, allows suspect after suspect to rough her up. Instead of tough, quirky and her own person, Mercy comes across as someone in need of a good psychiatrist and as lacking in moral character.

While Armstrong’s writing is spot on, the book suffers from the incorporation of reams of unexplained back story, which leaves the reader to puzzle through multiple references to past events.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4516-2536-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

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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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