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CELINE

An imperfect but largely satisfying detective novel anchored by a charming and unforgettable heroine.

An aging PI on the trail of a decades-old cold case finds more than she bargained for in the wilds of Wyoming.

Old-money WASP Celine Watkins, 68, the titular protagonist of Heller's (The Painter, 2014, etc.) first detective novel, isn't your typical private eye. But most private eyes can't boast a 96 percent success rate, either. Contacted by the daughter of a National Geographic photographer who disappeared in Yellowstone two decades earlier under mysterious circumstances, Celine and husband Pete head out from Brooklyn Heights to Wyoming. As the couple retraces the photographer's last known steps, however, they find a mystery far larger than just a missing journalist. These scenes of sleuthing set against the Wyoming wilderness are beautifully rendered—given that Heller is also a contributing editor to Outside magazine and National Geographic Adventure, it's no wonder the book's best moments come in its evocative descriptions of the American West in early autumn. Celine herself is a delight, and seeing grizzled men ranging from bikers to gun salesmen to Bruce Willis repeatedly underestimate this tough little old lady is one of the novel's biggest joys. But Heller's authorial presence is so strong that his characters' own voices suffer. When his characters withhold information from each other, it seems to happen for no reason other than to generate suspense, and their dialogue, while at times quite witty, is never recognizably distinct from Heller's narration. In a particularly illustrative instance, Pete recounts a conversation he had with a woman named Marie: " 'She was a man-eater!’ Marie said in a baffled Haitian accent.” It's hard to imagine an actual human being using the phrase "Marie said in a baffled Haitian accent," yet such unbelievable lines appear again and again.

An imperfect but largely satisfying detective novel anchored by a charming and unforgettable heroine.

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49389-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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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

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THE WINNER

Irritatingly trite woman-in-periler from lawyer-turned-novelist Baldacci. Moving away from the White House and the white-shoe Washington law firms of his previous bestsellers (Absolute Power, 1996; Total Control, 1997), Baldacci comes up with LuAnn Tyler, a spunky, impossibly beautiful, white-trash truck stop waitress with a no-good husband and a terminally cute infant daughter in tow. Some months after the birth of Lisa, LuAnn gets a phone call summoning her to a make-shift office in an unrented storefront of the local shopping mall. There, she gets a Faustian offer from a Mr. Jackson, a monomaniacal, cross-dressing manipulator who apparently knows the winning numbers in the national lottery before the numbers are drawn. It seems that LuAnn fits the media profile of what a lottery winner should be—poor, undereducated but proud—and if she's willing to buy the right ticket at the right time and transfer most of her winnings to Jackson, she'll be able to retire in luxury. Jackson fails to inform her, however, that if she refuses his offer, he'll have her killed. Before that can happen, as luck would have it, LuAnn barely escapes death when one of husband Duane's drug deals goes bad. She hops on a first-class Amtrak sleeper to Manhattan with a hired executioner in pursuit. But executioner Charlie, one of Jackson's paid handlers, can't help but hear wedding bells when he sees LuAnn cooing with her daughter. Alas, a winning $100- million lottery drawing complicates things. Jackson spirits LuAnn and Lisa away to Sweden, with Charlie in pursuit. Never fear. Not only will LuAnn escape a series of increasingly violent predicaments, but she'll also outwit Jackson, pay an enormous tax bill to the IRS, and have enough left over to honeymoon in Switzerland. Too preposterous to work as feminine wish-fulfillment, too formulaic to be suspenseful. (Book-of-the-Month Club main selection)

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1997

ISBN: 0-446-52259-7

Page Count: 528

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1997

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