A gnarly, satisfying caper set among moviemakers in Hollywood.

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CINEMATIC IMMUNITY

A key grip trying to write a script gets sucked into a strange conspiracy in this comic crime novel. 

Sam Agonistes does his own stunts. Not movie stunts, of course. Just the garden-variety, impulsive, middle-aged dude kind: “Like the time I got up on an overfilled recycling bin to stomp down the cardboard boxes and ended up flat on my back in the driveway....Or the time I decided the best way to get rid of the Christmas tree was to shove it in the fireplace and put a match to it.” A Hollywood grip–turned-screenwriter, Sam has the assurance that if he can simply compose the right script, superstar Shemahn will finance and star in the movie. The only problem? He hasn’t got the slightest idea of what to write. His writer’s block is interrupted by the appearance of a beautiful, much younger woman at his front door. Petunia Biggars tells him that she’s in danger and that he is too, though Sam—wary of a con job—sends her on her way. Sam is already distracted from dealing with his ex-wife and adult children, particularly his son, Atticus, whose anger is keeping him from professional and personal success. A few days later, some men in an SUV bearing Glocks show up, and Sam realizes that Petunia might have been correct. Luckily—or unluckily—Sam may be just the right kind of impulsive man to survive this outlandish Hollywood happening. Rowland’s (King Me, 2009) prose is laden with references to films and the people who make them—appropriate given the protagonist’s line of work. At one point, Sam muses: “Debbie Fisher practically potty-trained my daughter; Gregory Peck was an honorary godfather to our son….You get the picture. Sure, my Ex’s father wasn’t a Westmore—and her mother wasn’t a Salad Sister—but she had a hairstyling pedigree that predated Technicolor.” Some of the author’s stylistic choices, like the absence of quotation marks, make the plot a bit difficult to follow, but the beats will be recognizable to those familiar with fish-out-of-water crime novels. Similar to The Big Lebowski and Inherent Vice, Sam’s tale is a slacker detective story that will likely appeal the most to men of his same generation and cultural reference points.

A gnarly, satisfying caper set among moviemakers in Hollywood.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 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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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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