A winning origin story for one of modern fiction’s expertly drawn detectives.

THE RED HAND

This prequel to the Frank Nagler mystery series helps readers understand how the detective originally struggled, much like the city he serves.

This case is set about 20 years before The Swamps of Jersey (2014), the first of three volumes of Nagler present-day mysteries. Young Frank is a rookie detective on the police force in Ironton, New Jersey, his hometown. He is learning as he goes: “He felt he was running just to keep up, slogging through the everyday stuff of what he didn’t know, what he couldn’t imagine, one hand outstretched to feel the fog.” But a month after becoming a detective, he gets put on the Red Hand murder case, in which four women had been killed in various ways. Tying them together is a red hand-print emblazoned with the words “Hand of Death” at each crime scene. What is making these serial murders more difficult to solve is the lack of a discernible pattern. As Medical Examiner Walter Mulligan explains, “Someone is experimenting in death.” Complicating Frank’s life is that his wife, Martha, his childhood sweetheart, is dying from cancer. In addition, behind the scenes, the mayor and his cohorts are using the paranoia caused by the killings to scoop up real estate cheaply. Furthermore, the chief detective on the case is the mayor’s inside man. So Frank has to push past these personal and institutional obstacles while attempting to solve this baffling case. This dense, engrossing prequel illuminates why Frank embraces Ironton before economic decline and corruption totally savaged the town. Ironton is a character that Daigle (The Frank Nagler Mysteries: An Anthology, 2018, etc.) brings to atmospheric life in his work: “The sun had squeezed out of the mud the greasy mix of rotten plants, moldy, sweating trash, motor oil that had leaked from dismembered, rusted cars parts, and the musk of dead animals, and then compacted it.” It’s a wonder that Frank never fled Ironton, but, through his memories, this novel shows that it was home to him and Martha. That’s why, despite his hard-won cynicism, Frank still holds out hope, much like Ironton itself, seeking to rebound from ruin. This tale also presents younger versions of characters who continue to affect Frank today. These include Martha, newspaperman Jimmy Dawson, priggish superior Chris Foley, and down-on-his-luck Del Williams. This allows readers to gauge how relationships with Frank have developed through the decades. The author’s pacing is immaculate in this gruesome thriller, as he ratchets up the tension as each additional body is found. He also captures a portrait of a once-thriving community in chaos as fear sweeps through Ironton. While the fledgling detective often finds himself adrift while investigating the case, Frank’s moral compass never wavers, even when the town and its officials are ready to lynch an unlikely suspect. This makes him almost a lone voice in the wilderness but his gut proves right in the end. What results is a taut look back at the birth of a memorable character.

A winning origin story for one of modern fiction’s expertly drawn detectives.

Pub Date: July 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-944653-19-4

Page Count: 298

Publisher: Imzadi Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2019

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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