A smart and indelible crime tale with skillfully interwoven storylines.

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THE MELANCHOLY HOWL

From the Allison Coil Mystery series

In this fifth installment of a thriller series, a Colorado hunting guide and sleuth searches for a missing friend and contends with homicidal smugglers.

While on horseback in the Flat Tops Wilderness, guide Allison Coil stumbles on a man tied to a tree. Nearby is the carcass of a deer that someone has shot out of season and inexplicably left behind. The man won’t tell her anything, other than claiming he and some unnamed others survived a plane crash. She leaves him there and returns with local authorities, only to discover the man gone. The group, however, witnesses a low-flying plane pass by, and Allison follows it. The plane is heading in the same direction as a double set of footprints near the tree. Soon joined by her boyfriend, Colin McKee, Allison also searches for her friend Devo, who leads a tribe of devolutionists and has recently vanished. Meanwhile, Allison’s best friend, Trudy Heath, runs into unexpected trouble while shooting a TV pilot with Sam Shelton, an ex-rock star-turned-tomato farmer. And Trudy’s reporter boyfriend, Duncan Bloom, hopes to quash his debt by investing in marijuana, a risky endeavor even with pot now legalized in Colorado. But the greatest threat for Allison and her friends may be the murderous individuals interested in whatever the planes were hauling. Though not all of the subplots in the novel merge, Stevens’ (Lake of Fire, 2015, etc.) story is cohesive. Trudy, for example, while entangled with Sam separately, lends Allison a helping hand by gathering information from Devo’s sister-in-law. There are a few convincing twists, most notably the unraveling of a conspiracy and the surprising names involved. Nevertheless, the author heightens suspense with the early unmasking of a particularly brutal villain. The brisk narrative is bolstered by stellar dialogue that characters bounce back and forth. In one exchange, Trudy says humans are “dumb animals.” When Sam counters with “smart enough to distill whiskey, make beer, refine coca leaves and figure out cannabis,” Trudy simply reiterates: “Because we’re animals.”

A smart and indelible crime tale with skillfully interwoven storylines.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2018

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 314

Publisher: Third Line Press

Review Posted Online: July 25, 2018

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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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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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