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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Inside this bloated novel is a lean thriller starring a strong and damaged protagonist who's as compelling as Lisbeth...

THE THIRD TO DIE

In Brennan’s (Nothing To Hide, 2019, etc.) new series launch, a hard-edged female LAPD undercover cop and an ambitious FBI special agent race to catch a serial killer before he strikes again.

On paid administrative leave since an incident with a suspect went wrong, a restless Detective Kara Quinn is on an early morning run in her hometown of Liberty Lake, Washington, when she discovers the flayed corpse of a young nurse. In D.C., FBI Special Agent in Charge Mathias Costa is staffing the new Mobile Response Team, designed to cover rural areas underserved by law enforcement, when his boss assigns Matt and analyst Ryder Kim to Liberty Lake. The notorious Triple Killer, who murders three random victims, three days apart, every three years, has returned. With only six days to identify and catch the culprit, and only three days until he kills again, the team is “on a very tight clock.” What should be on-the-edge-of-your-seat suspense turns into a slog marred by pedestrian prose (“she heard nothing except birds chirping…”), a convoluted plot slowed down by a focus on dull bureaucratic infighting, and flat character development. The sole exception is the vividly drawn Kara. Smart, angry, defensive, complicated, she fascinates both the reader and Matt ("Kara Quinn was different—and he couldn’t put his finger on why”).

Inside this bloated novel is a lean thriller starring a strong and damaged protagonist who's as compelling as Lisbeth Salander.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7783-0944-4

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Sluggish plot hemmed in by too much backstory and going-through-the-motions prose. Not Brown’s best.

WHITE HOT

Lukewarm thriller from bestselling Brown (Hello, Darkness, 2003, etc.).

Sayre Hoyle doesn’t believe her brother Danny committed suicide, and she’s returned home to prove it—but it seems nothing ever changes in Destiny, Louisiana. The small town looks the same as ever, and the same good old boys are sitting in the same vinyl booths at the same diner, conniving and backstabbing and telling lies. Too bad one of them just happens to be Sayre’s daddy, Huff Hoyle. A self-made rich man in a poor parish, he owns a smoke-belching iron foundry, a hellish place that at least provides employment for the beaten-down men of Destiny. If industrial accidents do happen in one of ’em now and then, well, that’s God’s will. Tough-talking Huff don’t want the government OSHA boys anywhere near his foundry, and that goes double for union organizers and other un-American busybodies. Sayre’s heard it all before—and still doesn’t trust either him or her creepy older brother, Chris, who took so much pleasure in tormenting her when they were young. And there’s Huff’s new right-hand man, lawyer Beck Merchant, to contend with. What exactly does Beck stand to gain by his involvement with Huff and cronies? If only he weren’t so good-looking and sexy. . . . Back to the story: Did Slap Watkins, jug-eared, degenerate scion of inbred bayou-dwellers, kill gentleman Danny in a fit of rage when Danny refused to hire Slap’s fellow parolees? Nah. Slap doesn’t have the brains or coordination to kill a June bug. Back to the subplot: Will the tyrannical Huff resort to violence when his ironworkers defy him and go out on strike? And back to the reason Sayre hates Huff: He forced her to have an abortion, performed by an incompetent doctor who tied her, screaming, to the table in his back room. And now for the reason Beck hates Huff . . . .

Sluggish plot hemmed in by too much backstory and going-through-the-motions prose. Not Brown’s best.

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 2004

ISBN: 0-7432-4553-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2004

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