Very smart, with a tight plot and richer-than-average characterizations.

THE DISAPPEARED

A coroner in small-town England struggles against the police, elements of the government and her own demons to find out what happened to two suspected radicals.

Jenny Cooper, the fraught protagonist of Hall’s debut (The Coroner, 2008, U.K. only), is once again trying to solve a case that powerful, interested parties would just as soon keep unsolved. This time, though, she’s quit drinking, and the only pills she takes are the ones her psychiatrist prescribes to keep her anxiety at bay. Mrs. Jamal, a distraught mother almost unhinged by grief, turns to Jenny as a last resort, desperate to learn what happened to her son Nazim and his friend Rafi, who disappeared seven years ago. The authorities seem sure the young men went abroad to join extremists in Pakistan or Afghanistan, but she’s sure they didn’t, despite their involvement with a radical Islamic group. Jenny’s decision to convene an inquest is met with a marked lack of cooperation by the police and MI5, who for unknown reasons would rather the whole thing go away. But whenever she is tempted to let things slide, she’s urged on by Alec MacAvoy, a disgraced and amoral but charming and charismatic former lawyer in pursuit of his own shrouded agenda. Jenny’s burgeoning feelings for Alec threaten to upset the delicate emotional balance she’s created as she struggles to get over a divorce, get along with her teenage son and get to the bottom of the ever-darkening mystery surrounding Nazim and Rafi’s disappearance. Stubborn but fragile, dedicated to her work but always unsure as to whether she has the mettle to seek out the truth when everyone around her seems dead set on keeping it hidden, Jenny is a complex, compelling heroine. Hall does a stellar job of eliciting our empathy for her struggles with her job, her emotions, her addictions and her anxieties.

Very smart, with a tight plot and richer-than-average characterizations.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4391-5698-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2009

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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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A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be...

BADLANDS

Box takes another break from his highly successful Joe Pickett series (Stone Cold, 2014, etc.) for a stand-alone about a police detective, a developmentally delayed boy, and a package everyone in North Dakota wants to grab.

Cassandra Dewell can’t leave Montana’s Lewis and Clark County fast enough for her new job as chief investigator for Jon Kirkbride, sheriff of Bakken County. She leaves behind no memories worth keeping: her husband is dead, her boss has made no bones about disliking her, and she’s looking forward to new responsibilities and the higher salary underwritten by North Dakota’s sudden oil boom. But Bakken County has its own issues. For one thing, it’s cold—a whole lot colder than the coldest weather Cassie’s ever imagined. For another, the job she turns out to have been hired for—leading an investigation her new boss doesn’t feel he can entrust to his own force—makes her queasy. The biggest problem, though, is one she doesn’t know about until it slaps her in the face. A fatal car accident that was anything but accidental has jarred loose a stash of methamphetamines and cash that’s become the center of a battle between the Sons of Freedom, Bakken County’s traditional drug sellers, and MS-13, the Salvadorian upstarts who are muscling in on their territory. It’s a setup that leaves scant room for law enforcement officers or for Kyle Westergaard, the 12-year-old paperboy damaged since birth by fetal alcohol syndrome, who’s walked away from the wreck with a prize all too many people would kill for.

A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be welcome to return and tie up the gaping loose end Box leaves. The unrelenting cold makes this the perfect beach read.

Pub Date: July 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-58321-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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