A savage, gloomy murder tale that captivates with graceful prose and relentless protagonists.



A former FBI agent investigating a string of killings, all affiliated with a particular church, uncovers dark secrets in this debut thriller.

U.S. authorities have linked two recent murders with similar M.O.s: a man in North Carolina with drill-puncture wounds and another in West Virginia whose body contained 35 10-inch wood screws. Retired fed Daniel Ficus enlists the help of ex-FBI agent Karen McIntyre because of the victims’ associations with Hillbourne Tabernacle Ministries. As it happens, there are quite a few more HTM members who have died within the last couple of years. Though cops haven’t deemed most of the deaths as homicides, Ficus, the chief of security for HTM, wants Karen to investigate them—and as quietly as possible. In a concurrent subplot, 9-year-old Clara Lino is living a bleak existence in Honduras. One day, her abusive prostitute mother sells Clara to a gringo. Some strangers take the girl to Casa Crystal, a reputed orphanage where she and other children are subjected to rape and general maltreatment. The deviants running the orphanage later ship Clara and the others to America, where their predicament, if anything, only worsens. Befriending some of her fellow captives, Clara soon looks for a means of escape. Meanwhile, in the course of her inquiry, Karen links yet another death to the rest, but one in which the victim may have hidden a rather repulsive pastime. As she inches closer to identifying the murderer, Karen suspects HTM is keeping secrets from her. When her life inevitably intersects with Clara’s, answers, however appalling, will come to light. The things that Clara endures makes Hulsman’s book anything but a breezy read. It is nevertheless thoroughly engaging, starting with the astonishing female protagonists. Tormented Clara, for one, copes with help from her grandfather’s love of Greek mythology; at one point, she sees herself as Persephone, remaining strong-willed against her captors (metaphorically Hades). Karen, for her part, has a curiously murky background, as her last federal case resulted in praise and a medal as well as her decision to quit the bureau. Violence in a story of child abuse is unsurprising, but in this case, it’s neither prolonged nor graphic. In fact, the author writes with a skilled, confident hand and a lyricism that assuages the narrative’s grimmer content. The ambience, for example, is somber but beautiful: “All along the reservoir’s edge, a hazy October sunrise doused the fall colors of the trees in a preternatural gleam.” Even more intense moments have a noted vibrancy: “All-consuming panic exploded into an almost liberating darkness as she passed out.” Although the killer’s name isn’t immediately known (despite opening with a murder from the criminal’s perspective), readers will likely decipher the mystery in little time. But this doesn’t diminish the impact of the tale, which is more invested in Clara’s survival and perseverance. Likewise, there are unanticipated shocks, such as what Karen finds inside a coin bank. The story ends with finality while leaving the fate of a character or two fairly open.

A savage, gloomy murder tale that captivates with graceful prose and relentless protagonists.

Pub Date: April 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-984517-24-1

Page Count: 254

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2018

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A kicky, kinky, wildly inventive 21st-century mashup with franker language and a higher body count than Hamlet.

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Manic parodist Moore, fresh off a season in 1947 San Francisco (Noir, 2018), returns with a rare gift for Shakespeare fans who think A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be perfect if only it were a little more madcap.

Cast adrift by pirates together with his apprentice, halfwit giant Drool, and Jeff, his barely less intelligent monkey, Pocket of Dog Snogging upon Ouze, jester to the late King Lear, washes ashore in Shakespeare’s Athens, where Cobweb, a squirrel by day and fairy by night, takes him under her wing and other parts. Soon after he encounters Robin Goodfellow (the Puck), jester to shadow king Oberon, and Nick Bottom and the other clueless mechanicals rehearsing Pyramus and Thisby in a nearby forest before they present it in celebration of the wedding of Theseus, Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, the captive Amazon queen who’s captured his heart, Pocket (The Serpent of Venice, 2014, etc.) finds Robin fatally shot by an arrow. Suspected briefly of the murder himself, he’s commissioned, first by Hippolyta, then by the unwitting Theseus, to identify the Puck’s killer. Oh, and Egeus, the Duke’s steward, wants him to find and execute Lysander, who’s run off with Egeus’ daughter, Hermia, instead of marrying Helena, who’s in love with Demetrius. As English majors can attest, a remarkable amount of this madness can already be found in Shakespeare’s play. Moore’s contribution is to amp up the couplings, bawdy language, violence, and metatextual analogies between the royals, the fairies, the mechanicals, his own interloping hero, and any number of other plays by the Bard.

A kicky, kinky, wildly inventive 21st-century mashup with franker language and a higher body count than Hamlet.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-243402-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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