Overly familiar debut melodrama somewhat redeemed by one fresh theme, the use of art therapy to overcome childhood mutism. Two poles of mental illness hold this novel in balance: the study of a sexual psychopath, and of the elective mutism he’s driven his stepson into through sexual abuse. Chet Boyce marries Davy’s plain-faced mother to get at seven-year-old Davy. When Davy tells her that his new stepfather has been hurting him “down there” and she confronts Chet, Chet kills her with a straight razor in front of Davy, then buries her, and takes Davy with him in a trailer to the far Oregon timberland town of Bentman. Chet, it turns out, is a serial murderer who marries and kills widows with sons. His threats have caused Davy to go mute, even around their trailer, which is parked in the woods. Not surprisingly, the boy does poorly in school, and so is later transferred to the Bentman Children’s Center for psychological study, where he ends up in Celia Griswold’s art therapy class. Two subthemes about cruelty to animals glance off the main storyline: Hunters kill deer illegally on the Griswolds’ country property, and a retarded shepherd begins grazing his flock near their home. Meanwhile, Celia gets Davy to turn out endless drawings for her—which are nearly always of Batman with his crotch heavily blackened. Celia considers this a likely indication of child abuse, and her chats with Chet only strengthen her suspicions. We follow Chet as he sneaks into Celia’s home while she’s away. At the same time, Celia’s husband Jack is having an affair with his secretary at the insurance agency he runs. When he and his lover go off for a weekend, Celia is left alone in the woods, and Chet’s fiendish schemes begin, with murder the lighter side of his joys. Chet’s grim illness is ghastly, but the plot twists and climax are unsurprising, reducing this to a standard-issue thriller.

Pub Date: April 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-312-18051-9

Page Count: 294

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1998

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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.


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


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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