Lawson’s matter-of-fact tone, walking a fine line between satire and reportage, propels his tale forward despite its limited...

HOUSE ARREST

Bagman/fixer Joe DeMarco, who has a law degree but has never practiced law, gets to see a whole new side of the legal system when he’s expertly framed for murder.

DeMarco’s minding his own business, working late in his subbasement office in the Capitol, when an assassin shoots House majority whip Lyle Canton, who’s also minding his own business in his spiffier office upstairs, to death. The ubiquitous security cameras strewn throughout the building catch little of note. But since DeMarco’s patron, House minority leader John Mahoney, has been a frequent target of Canton’s attacks, and since the killer sticks around for long enough to plant some highly incriminating evidence in DeMarco’s office after he leaves, it’s not long before he’s arrested. DeMarco, who, incredibly enough, has heretofore spent only a single night in jail despite his checkered career (House Witness, 2018, etc.), can now expect a stay of at least a year while his attorney, Janet Evans, prepares his defense. The most likely way his stay can be shortened lies with billionaire businessman Sebastian Spear, the lover whom the slain politician’s wife, Jean Canton, had been on her way to meet when she wrapped her car around a tree. It’s pretty obvious to pretty much everyone except the police and the FBI that Spear hired Canton’s murderer; now he’s trying to reach inside the Alexandria jail and have DeMarco killed, too. So the story quickly settles into a high-stakes groove of thrust and counterthrust: Bill Brayden, Spear Industry’s head of security, keeps hatching more and more inventive schemes to get DeMarco’s fellow prisoners to kill him; Mahoney and his well-connected allies do everything they can to head off most of these attempts, foil the ones they can’t head off, and bring down Brayden, Spear, and the actual killer before they succeed.

Lawson’s matter-of-fact tone, walking a fine line between satire and reportage, propels his tale forward despite its limited capacity for surprise. And his final sequence, both blackly comic and ineffably sad, provides the perfect conclusion.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2930-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless...

SPLIT SECOND

Two defrocked Secret Service Agents investigate the assassination of one presidential candidate and the kidnapping of another.

Baldacci (The Christmas Train, 2002, etc.) sets out with two plot strands. The first begins when something distracts Secret Service Agent Sean King and during that “split second,” presidential candidate Clyde Ritter is shot dead. King takes out the killer, but that’s not enough to save his reputation with the Secret Service. He retires and goes on to do often tedious but nonetheless always lucrative work (much like a legal thriller such as this) at a law practice. Plot two begins eight years later when another Secret Service Agent, Michelle Maxwell, lets presidential candidate John Bruno out of her sight for a few minutes at a wake for one of his close associates. He goes missing. Now Maxwell, too, gets in dutch with the SS. Though separated by time, the cases are similar and leave several questions unanswered. What distracted King at the rally? Bruno had claimed his friend’s widow called him to the funeral home. The widow (one of the few characters here to have any life) says she never called Bruno. Who set him up? Who did a chambermaid at Ritter’s hotel blackmail? And who is the man in the Buick shadowing King’s and Maxwell’s every move? King is a handsome, rich divorce, Maxwell an attractive marathon runner. Will they join forces and find each other kind of, well, appealing? But of course. The two former agents traverse the countryside, spinning endless hypotheses before the onset, at last, of a jerrybuilt conclusion that begs credibility and offers few surprises.

Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless concoction.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2003

ISBN: 0-446-53089-1

Page Count: 406

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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