At its best when examining John’s history, while the author smartly underplays the murder plot.

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The Whispers of Dead Elms

A young man’s summer vacation on his grandparents’ farm brings to light a 54-year-old, unsolved murder—and maybe the murderer as well—in Jereczek’s debut thriller.

The summer of 1984 is Edgar Karpinsky’s last before college. Not surprisingly, he’s reluctant to spend it with his grandparents, helping care for their cows in the small town of Jaylor, Wisconsin. But Edgar is also scared of his grandpa John, who once tied his 6-year-old grandson to a rocking chair outside during a thunderstorm. Edgar has barely settled in and he’s already wary of the hog barn, to which John seems to be staying close. A quick search uncovers a hidden gun, but John doesn’t appear shocked by the discovery. Instead, he has a story to tell Edgar about the enigmatic Martin Tall, whose 1930 shooting death has become a local legend. Jereczek’s novel begins as a psychological drama; Edgar is unmistakably disturbed by memories of John, and his parents, inexplicably, are itching to drop him off at the farm and leave him. But Jereczek dives right into the mystery, quickly introducing the Tall murder via a newspaper clipping Edgar stumbles upon. The story, courtesy of John’s tale, bounces from yesteryear to the story’s present day, with the occasional police report—for readers’ eyes only—and a few other characters speaking to Edgar, including Great Aunt Lucy and John’s friend Stanley. The 1930 flashbacks are riveting, diving into the trouble that surrounds gangster types setting up a whiskey distillery in John’s old sheep barn. And the whodunit is coupled with a whowasit, since Tall’s background is largely unknown, even to the investigating cops. Most readers will guess a major plot twist well before it’s revealed, but Jereczek fortunately doesn’t save that one until the end, opting to cap the novel with multiple other twists, one or two unrelated to the murder but all with the capacity to startle. Meanwhile, Edgar’s romances—one lost, another possibly found—don’t get enough pages to register. Nevertheless, scenes with veterinarian intern Maye, however small, are welcome reprieves from the much darker past.

At its best when examining John’s history, while the author smartly underplays the murder plot.

Pub Date: July 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-50-897385-0

Page Count: 264

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2015

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Garrett’s failure to produce any sympathetic characters makes her debut tough going.

THE LAST TO DIE

Burglaries turn deadly for a group of spoiled teenagers.

Harper, Alex, Sarah, Paisley, Benji, and Gin come from similarly privileged homes. Their parents make up for a lack of commitment to their high school offspring by providing unfettered access to life’s material benefits: cars, clothes, and costly vacations. When getting drunk on booze filched from their folks’ well-stocked liquor cabinets palls, they invent an exciting new game. Each time one of the teens’ families goes skiing in Vail or snorkeling in the Bahamas, a designated member of the pack breaks into the unattended house and collects an assortment of trophies to be pawned for ready cash. The rules of the looting are strict. Only one member breaks into each house, nothing is to be stolen that can’t be replaced with insurance money, and nothing stolen from other members of the group. Harper adds one more rule: no stealing from her deaf sister, Maggie. After one full round of felonious fun, the wheels start to come off the crime spree. Sarah dies from a drug overdose. The police can’t decide if it’s an accident or suicide, but Harper is sure it’s neither. She thinks Sarah is too smart to overdose on her own and too conceited to kill herself. And since no one outside her little group exists for Harper, one of her fellow thieves must have killed her. Going to the authorities is a no-go because it would reveal the group’s role in the burglaries and spoil their chances of admission to an Ivy League college. So Harper and her chums sit around and wait to see if anything else bad happens. It does. Unfortunately, even Harper’s protectiveness toward her sister carries its own whiff of smugness.

Garrett’s failure to produce any sympathetic characters makes her debut tough going.

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-929345-30-4

Page Count: 206

Publisher: Poisoned Pen

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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Bulky, balky, talky.

THE DA VINCI CODE

In an updated quest for the Holy Grail, the narrative pace remains stuck in slo-mo.

But is the Grail, in fact, holy? Turns out that’s a matter of perspective. If you’re a member of that most secret of clandestine societies, the Priory of Sion, you think yes. But if your heart belongs to the Roman Catholic Church, the Grail is more than just unholy, it’s downright subversive and terrifying. At least, so the story goes in this latest of Brown’s exhaustively researched, underimagined treatise-thrillers (Deception Point, 2001, etc.). When Harvard professor of symbology Robert Langdon—in Paris to deliver a lecture—has his sleep interrupted at two a.m., it’s to discover that the police suspect he’s a murderer, the victim none other than Jacques Saumière, esteemed curator of the Louvre. The evidence against Langdon could hardly be sketchier, but the cops feel huge pressure to make an arrest. And besides, they don’t particularly like Americans. Aided by the murdered man’s granddaughter, Langdon flees the flics to trudge the Grail-path along with pretty, persuasive Sophie, who’s driven by her own need to find answers. The game now afoot amounts to a scavenger hunt for the scholarly, clues supplied by the late curator, whose intent was to enlighten Sophie and bedevil her enemies. It’s not all that easy to identify these enemies. Are they emissaries from the Vatican, bent on foiling the Grail-seekers? From Opus Dei, the wayward, deeply conservative Catholic offshoot bent on foiling everybody? Or any one of a number of freelancers bent on a multifaceted array of private agendas? For that matter, what exactly is the Priory of Sion? What does it have to do with Leonardo? With Mary Magdalene? With (gulp) Walt Disney? By the time Sophie and Langdon reach home base, everything—well, at least more than enough—has been revealed.

Bulky, balky, talky.

Pub Date: March 18, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-50420-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2003

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