A conventional mystery, spearheaded by an unconventional first-time gumshoe with an intricate backstory.

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In Soletsky’s (Trail Blaze, 2016, etc.) mystery-thriller series starter, a firefighter sparks an amateur investigation to identify a murderer in his small New Hampshire town.

In his two years as a volunteer fireman with the Dunboro Fire Department, Jack Fallon has seen dead bodies before—but the latest one he finds, during the response to a house fire, particularly unnerves him. The victim, who Jack later learns is named Patricia Woods, was found dead and handcuffed to a bed. The town’s sheriff, Bobby Dawkins, deems Patricia’s death a murder, and when the fire is revealed to be suspicious, Jack becomes determined to track down the woman’s killer. He certainly can’t rely on Dawkins, who’s never investigated a murder before; indeed, no one can recall any murders in the history of Dunboro, a town of just 937 residents. Jack’s ensuing investigation involves occasional illegal acts, including perusing the restricted crime scene late at night. But it also leads him to people worth questioning, including Patricia’s dental hygienist co-workers; her younger sister, Rachael Woods; and a married man, Michael Carston, with whom Patricia was carrying on an affair. Jack’s ruminations on the murder become obsessive, turning him into an insomniac, putting a strain on his marriage, and necessitating sessions with local therapist Beverly Dell. A second murder further complicates matters and makes Dawkins suspicious of Jack. In spite of the sheriff’s warnings, however, Jack plans to see his personal investigation through to the end, so he can stop Patricia’s murderer from killing again. Soletsky, a veteran volunteer firefighter, generates suitably intense scenes of men battling blazes. In a describing his first fire, Jack states, “My face burned and my breath heaved, and I felt dizzy and nauseous, and I kept digging and moving shit around, trying to find any remnant of fire and put it out.” Readers will find other aspects of the protagonist to be riveting, as well; it’s revealed that he has a doctorate in physics and once invented a new way to administer chemotherapy drugs—technology that the government bought and used as a bioweapon. This instills in Jack a perpetual sense of guilt, and a similar sense of responsibility fuels his need to look into Patricia’s death. It’s a reasonable catalyst for his investigation, and his intermittent missteps—including identifying himself as a police officer to Michael’s wife, Samantha Carston—make him a believable amateur sleuth. At the same time, Jack’s overall course of action remains coherent throughout as he gathers all the clues he can; he compares the task to finding puzzle pieces without knowing “what picture I was trying to make.” The mystery provides plenty of opportunities for readers to reach a solution on their own, and some may find this too easy to do. In fact, it’s surprising that the unquestionably intelligent Jack doesn’t immediately see one conspicuous connection. Still, the murder case unfolds at a steady pace, gradually escalating the suspense.

A conventional mystery, spearheaded by an unconventional first-time gumshoe with an intricate backstory.

Pub Date: May 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4975-6528-9

Page Count: 286

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 29, 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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Proficient but eminently predictable. Amid all the time shifts and embedded backstories, the most surprising feature is how...

THE A LIST

A convicted killer’s list of five people he wants dead runs the gamut from the wife he’s already had murdered to franchise heroine Ali Reynolds.

Back in the day, women came from all over to consult Santa Clarita fertility specialist Dr. Edward Gilchrist. Many of them left his care happily pregnant, never dreaming that the father of the babies they carried was none other than the physician himself, who donated his own sperm rather than that of the handsome, athletic, disease-free men pictured in his scrapbook. When Alexandra Munsey’s son, Evan, is laid low by the kidney disease he’s inherited from his biological father and she returns to Gilchrist in search of the donor’s medical records, the roof begins to fall in on him. By the time it’s done falling, he’s serving a life sentence in Folsom Prison for commissioning the death of his wife, Dawn, the former nurse and sometime egg donor who’d turned on him. With nothing left to lose, Gilchrist tattoos himself with the initials of five people he blames for his fall: Dawn; Leo Manuel Aurelio, the hit man he’d hired to dispose of her; Kaitlyn Todd, the nurse/receptionist who took Dawn’s place; Alex Munsey, whose search for records upset his apple cart; and Ali Reynolds, the TV reporter who’d helped put Alex in touch with the dozen other women who formed the Progeny Project because their children looked just like hers. No matter that Ali’s been out of both California and the news business for years; Gilchrist and his enablers know that revenge can’t possibly be served too cold. Wonder how far down that list they’ll get before Ali, aided once more by Frigg, the methodical but loose-cannon AI first introduced in Duel to the Death (2018), turns on them?

Proficient but eminently predictable. Amid all the time shifts and embedded backstories, the most surprising feature is how little the boundary-challenged AI, who gets into the case more or less inadvertently, differs from your standard human sidekick with issues.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5101-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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