THE BIG BOOK OF FEMALE DETECTIVES

On balance, then: lots of landmarks, even more incidental pleasures, and endless provocations for arguments about who really...

Most of the bulked-up anthologies veteran editor Penzler has produced for Black Lizard (The Big Book of Rogues and Villains, 2017, etc.) are remarkable mainly for their comprehensiveness, even their exhaustiveness. Not this one.

Most of the 74 stories Penzler has chosen are beyond cavil. The first 10 entries, originally published between 1864 and 1911, may not set your pulse racing, but they’re historically indispensable, and the tales by L.T. Meade and Robert Eustace, Baroness Emmuska Orczy, and Richard Marsh will set many readers to searching for more stories featuring Florence Cusack, Lady Molly Robertson-Kirk, and Judith Lee. Nor is anyone likely to quarrel with the reprints from the first half of the 20th century, from Carolyn Wells, Anna Katharine Green, Mary Roberts Rinehart, F. Tennyson Jesse, and Mignon G. Eberhart to Phyllis Bentley, Gladys Mitchell, Frederick Nebel, and Richard Sale. H.H. Holmes supplies an adventure of Sister Ursula, Stuart Palmer presents the spinster schoolteacher Hildegarde Withers, and James Yaffe showcases the anonymous mother of the police detective who narrates her armchair-and–coffee table investigations. Trouble arrives only later on, when the field becomes too rich to do more than sample. Following a gap of more than 20 years (1966-1989) that evidently produced no worthwhile short stories featuring female sleuths, Penzler resumes with tales by Marcia Muller, Sue Grafton, Carolyn Hart, Faye Kellerman, Sara Paretsky, Nevada Barr, Linda Barnes, S.J. Rozan, Laura Lippman, Wendy Hornsby, and eight others. But fans will search in vain for anything by such equally eminent candidates as Sharyn McCrumb, Barbara D’Amato, Margaret Maron, Val McDermid, Kathy Reichs, Liza Cody, Denise Mina, Laurie R. King, Rhys Bowen, Karin Slaughter, Kerry Greenwood, or Alan Bradley. The only way for Penzler to have shoehorned them into his 1,100-plus pages would have been to cut the last section, “Bad Girls,” whose dozen selections (including two more by Meade and Eustace and one by Penzler’s adored Joyce Carol Oates) seem to have wandered in from a different collection, or to replace The Secret Adversary, the second-rate 1922 novel in which Agatha Christie introduced the forgettable Tommy and Tuppence, with a short story featuring Miss Marple, who together with Nancy Drew is the most notable no-show here.

On balance, then: lots of landmarks, even more incidental pleasures, and endless provocations for arguments about who really should have made the cut.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-43474-0

Page Count: 1136

Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

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

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. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

BADLANDS

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

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 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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