Solid characters and Lance’s alluringly grim dreams help distinguish this murder mystery.

Flight of the Tarantula Hawk

A LANCE UNDERPHAL MYSTERY

Psychic crime-scene photographer Lance Underphal is back. In Scott’s (Dark Side of Sunset Pointe, 2013) latest thriller, this tortured character tries to use his visions to help police find a murderer who’s injecting victims with Botox.

When Lance is called to photograph the scene of a murder, a real estate agent killed by Botox shot into her neck, he realizes he’s already seen this in a vision—a wasp stinging a tarantula with a paralytic venom. Doing what he can to help his cop pal Detective Frank Salmon, Lance combs through his dreams, vague though they might be—the symbolic wasp and tarantula; a potential victim whom Lance can’t see clearly; a killer appearing as a child. Meanwhile, Lance, a tormented psychic plagued with insomnia and migraines, finds solace in hearing and conversing with the voice of his dead wife, Sonja. PI Jake Jacobs, a former SEAL who served with Frank, enters the investigation when he’s hired by Jenny, whose husband, Paul, disappears and is later found dead, also from Botox. Jake eventually locks on to a suspect, the senior vice president of a bank’s HR department, while the police have their eyes on someone else. Lance, meanwhile, provides details as they come to him, but he’s absolutely sure of one thing: The murderer is female. He just has to convince the cops he’s right. Alluding to his previous novel with mentions of “the Rodriguez case” but avoiding unnecessary elaboration, Scott can churn out visually rich passages with ease, particularly later in the story when the visions gradually reveal the killer and become increasingly disturbing. In particular, manifestations of the little girl eventually merge with the wasp and tarantula in a stunning, cringe-worthy scene. Lance is an intriguing protagonist, suffering from his psychic abilities with visions of a killer inside his head but also tortured by the simple fact that he still misses Sonja. Jake, however, ends up with the sauciest morsels: Already in a sexual relationship with Jenny’s mother, he picks up his female suspect at a bar on ladies’ night and later has to convince Jenny that he’s not holding out on her in the search for Paul’s killer. He has the best scene, too, when he tracks still-missing Paul’s phone to a foreclosed home and slowly approaches the door while on the phone with Jenny. However, the killer’s identity may not be a shock—readers will likely spot the link between the first two victims and wonder why the cops didn’t see it sooner.

Solid characters and Lance’s alluringly grim dreams help distinguish this murder mystery.

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-1940745015

Page Count: 350

Publisher: Telemachus Press

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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