An engaging crime caper. This book hits the mark.

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THIN SLICE OF LIFE

The triumvirate writing as Miles Arceneaux (aka Texas authors Brent Douglass, John T. Davis and James R. Dennis) debuts with a hurricane-ravaged thriller in the atmosphere-and-action mode of Sue Grafton’s Santa Teresa and James Lee Burke’s Cajun country. 

Charlie Sweetwater, vagabond owner of a small Mexican diving resort, picks up the phone and hears his brother say “drive up here….I want you to meet somebody.” Brother Johnny runs the family’s fishing fleet, having remained on the Texas Gulf after their father’s death. Charlie arrives, but Johnny is missing at sea. Thus begins an adventure among shrimpers, fisherman and edge-of-law folks sailing around the fertile bay waters near Port Aransas, and it all plays out before, during and after a devastating hurricane called Lana. It’s 1979, and trawlers harvesting the Texas Gulf Coast’s bounty are largely crewed by ambitious and hardworking Vietnamese refugees. That’s good. What’s bad is the market’s controlled by Sea-Tex, a shadowy corporation owned by “Colonel” Nguyen Ngoc Bao, a man who has “the sort of attitude for his adopted home that a crocodile reserves for a poodle.” The storm, plus gunrunning, drug smuggling and the hardy denizens of the Shady Boat and Leisure Club, give the novel a hold-onto-your-seat cinematic narrative. Add film-ready characterizations like Llewellyn “Pinky” Cudihay (cast John Goodman, certainly), who is a corrupt state senator, and O. B. Hadnott (give Tommy Lee Jones a Stetson), a West Texas Ranger assigned to investigate the shooting of the senator’s aide, and it’s a page turner. The authors also do a commendable job with Hispanic and Vietnamese characters. There’s menacing Miguel Negron, former gangbanger, prisoner and now cook/bartender, and Marisol Cavasos, Miguel’s childhood friend and current parole officer. Then there’s beautiful Trinh An Phu, once a Saigon bar girl, who captures the taciturn Ranger’s heart. And that's not counting young Raul, who attaches himself to Tío Carlito. Fights, stabbings and gunplay carry the narrative until the good guys win out and get the girls. 

An engaging crime caper. This book hits the mark.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-936205-84-4

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Stephen F. Austin University Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2012

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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THE LAST TRIAL

Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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