An enjoyable, solidly paced escape.

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THE PIPER'S WARNING

From the Highland Spirits series , Vol. 2

The sound of bagpipes ushers in MacKinnon’s (The Comyn’s Curse, 2019) latest mystery, which features murder, drugs, centuries-old castles, romance—and a couple of ghosts.

The second volume in MacKinnon’s Highlands Spirits Series reconnects most of the cast from the opener. Detective Kate Bianchi of the Harrington, New Jersey, police force has just been assigned to a prestigious new task force investigating the rapid spread of a dangerous new hallucinogen called “Reign” (or “Regicide” in Europe). The drug is apparently being imported from somewhere in the Scottish Highlands. However, before Kate begins working on the case, she learns that her husband, Eddie, has died in a construction accident. She’s distraught and unfocused and put on temporary leave. Aubrey, one of Kate’s best friends, is now living in Scotland and engaged to Fionnlagh “Finn” Cameron, a history professor, part-time guide, and bagpipe enthusiast. Kate takes up residence at Aubrey’s friend Nessie’s rooming house in Inverness. In the same city, at her friend Angus’ bookshop, she meets the handsome, albeit scowling, Detective Investigator Jack MacDonald of the Scottish national police force, which is also working on the Reign enigma. Much to his consternation, Kate is added to his investigative team. So the adventure begins, mixing danger with an engaging lesson in Scottish history and culture—including a unique, running tutorial on bagpipes. When Aubrey, Finn, and Kate check out Dunebrae Castle as a possible honeymoon destination, the past and the present begin to intertwine—in ghostly fashion. The author effectively intersperses a mournful love story from 1644 with the suspenseful events of the current investigation. Along the way, MacKinnon drops perhaps a few too many breadcrumbs, and, as a result, readers are unlikely to be shocked when the villain is revealed. However, the author sufficiently keeps up the tension and the narrative pace, throwing in a few intriguing twists to keep the plot engaging. The text is also peppered with Scottish phrases (a glossary is included), and this adds to the charm of the characters and the atmospheric location.

An enjoyable, solidly paced escape.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-951490-08-9

Page Count: 344

Publisher: DartFrog Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2020

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Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

CROOKED RIVER

FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast finds evil afoot in his latest action-filled adventure (Verses for the Dead, 2018, etc.).

Imagine Florida beachcombers’ shock when they discover a shoe with a severed foot inside. Soon they see dozens more feet, all in identical shoes, bobbing toward the beach. Police and FBI ultimately count more than a hundred of them washing up on Sanibel and Captiva Islands' tranquil shores. Pendergast teams up with the junior Special Agent Armstrong Coldmoon to investigate this strange phenomenon. Oceanographers use a supercomputer to analyze Gulf currents and attempt to determine where the feet entered the ocean. Were they dumped off a ship or an island? Does each one represent a homicide? Analysts examine chemical residues and pollen, even the angle of each foot’s amputation, but the puzzle defies all explanation. Attention focuses on Cuba, where “something terrible was happening” in front of a coastal prison, and on China, the apparent source of the shoes. The clever plot is “a most baffling case indeed” for the brilliant Pendergast, but it’s the type of problem he thrives on. He’s hardly a stereotypical FBI agent, given for example his lemon-colored silk suit, his Panama hat, and his legendary insistence on working alone—until now. Pendergast rarely blinks—perhaps, someone surmises, he’s part reptile. But equally odd is Constance Greene, his “extraordinarily beautiful,” smart, and sarcastic young “ward” who has “eyes that had seen everything and, as a result, were surprised by nothing.” Coldmoon is more down to earth: part Lakota, part Italian, and “every inch a Fed.” Add in murderous drug dealers, an intrepid newspaper reporter, coyotes crossing the U.S.–Mexico border, and a pissed-off wannabe graphic novelist, and you have a thoroughly entertaining cast of characters. There is plenty of suspense, and the action gets bloody.

Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4725-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

ONE GOOD DEED

Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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