Hall’s cautionary tale of a femme fatale boasts crackerjack storytelling, vibrant characters, and some terrific twists.

SO MANY DOORS

A willful and provocative beauty drives every man within her orbit to distraction, and one to murder, in a novel that was first published to great acclaim in 1950.

Each of the tale’s five sections focuses on a different character, all of them with hard-luck stories. The first begins as a broken Jack Ward sits in jail. Having confessed to the murder of an unnamed woman, he tells his court-appointed lawyer that all he wants is the gas chamber. Next Hall (Warlock, 1958, etc.) flashes back to Depression-era southern California, where Baird, a distressed rancher, is trying to keep his gorgeous and unruly teenage daughter, Vassilia, from running wild. Denton, a wealthy neighboring rancher, garners her affection by buying V a beautiful horse. When he offers to pay for V’s college education, claiming that he loves her like a daughter, Baird is unwilling to deny his generosity. The next section focuses on Ben Proctor, a small-time politico and roommate of Jack Ward, who’s dating V. Despite himself, Ben finds himself undeniably drawn to V, something Jack seems frustratingly oblivious to, often inviting him to join them. Whether her flirtatiousness is a form of friendly attention or something more, this arrangement can’t end well. Then the story jumps to Marian Huber, who adds another angle through her husband Arch’s friendship with Jack Ward, who’s newly married to naïve Gene Geary. Marian doesn’t think that supersweet Gene is a good match for erratic Jack, but when she spots him with a voluptuous temptress, she feels duty-bound to inform the innocent newlywed.

Hall’s cautionary tale of a femme fatale boasts crackerjack storytelling, vibrant characters, and some terrific twists.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-78565-688-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Hard Case Crime

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

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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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This thriller is taut and fast-paced but lacks compelling protagonists.

THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS

Three siblings who have been out of touch for more than 20 years grapple with their unsettling childhoods, but when the youngest inherits the family home, all are drawn back together.

At the age of 25, Libby Jones learns she has inherited a large London house that was held in a trust left to her by her birthparents. When she visits the lawyer, she is shocked to find out that she was put up for adoption when she was 10 months old after her parents died in the house in an apparent suicide pact with an unidentified man and that she has an older brother and sister who were teenagers at the time of their parents' deaths and haven't been seen since. Meanwhile, in alternating narratives, we're introduced to Libby's sister, Lucy Lamb, who's on the verge of homelessness with her two children in the south of France, and her brother, Henry Lamb, who's attempting to recall the last few disturbing years with his parents during which they lost their wealth and were manipulated into letting friends move into their home. These friends included the controlling but charismatic David Thomsen, who moved his own wife and two children into the rooms upstairs. Henry also remembers his painful adolescent confusion as he became wildly infatuated with Phineas, David’s teenage son. Meanwhile, Libby connects with Miller Roe, the journalist who covered the story about her family, and the pair work together to find her brother and sister, determine what happened when she was an infant, and uncover who has recently been staying in the vacant house waiting for Libby to return. As Jewell (Watching You, 2018, etc.) moves back and forth from the past to the present, the narratives move swiftly toward convergence in her signature style, yet with the exception of Lucy’s story, little suspense is built up and the twists can’t quite make up for the lack of deep characters and emotionally weighty moments.

This thriller is taut and fast-paced but lacks compelling protagonists.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-9010-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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