Sparkling action scenes punctuate the first in a series of tales about the run-up to the Civil War.

A Storm Before the War


Two young Americans find adventure and intrigue in the slavery era.

Otts (The Sword of the Prophet, 2009) carries the reader a century and a half back in time to the burgeoning of bad blood between North and South. The year is 1857, and South Carolina is embroiled in sedition. Freed slave John Harvey has spent years working in silence for the abolitionist cause as he accompanies his employer’s son, Martin McCrary, on a tour of New Orleans, Havana, and other points south. Unknown to McCrary, “a young man who had done more reading than sporting in a life,” the secretive Harvey is actually in the employ of both McCrary’s abolitionist maternal grandfather, the Rev. Matthew Coulter, now exiled to the Carolina mountains, and his financier, Sir Ian McDonald, a progressive Liverpool merchant. But McCrary does not live long in ignorance. After the young men take turns saving each other’s lives—Harvey protects McCrary on the dangerous streets of Havana before McCrary defends the shipwrecked Harvey from circling sharks—Harvey lets his companion in on a secret that bonds them for life. The revelation also shatters McCrary’s callow image of the world. Vowing to work together to end the scourge of slavery, the two become double agents, encountering dangers around every corner. Their investigations lead them to “a grand conspiracy to dismantle the United States of America, by encouraging Secession in the Southern states.” This is very much a series-establishing book, and readers who hope to see the story tidied up by the final page will instead be surprised to encounter traces of a larger saga still unfolding. This series promises to be an exhilarating one. Otts can write genuinely gripping action scenes with surprisingly well-chosen language (note, for example, the wise but unusual use of “punch” when “Harvey leapt from the shadows, using his left hand to punch the stiletto between the Spaniard’s ribs”). There are dozens of such well-limned scenes here, along with two-faced characters aplenty and a strong moral center to both young heroes that makes for an assured and diverting read.

Sparkling action scenes punctuate the first in a series of tales about the run-up to the Civil War.

Pub Date: April 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5329-8840-0

Page Count: 340

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 23, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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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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A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be...


Box takes another break from his highly successful Joe Pickett series (Stone Cold, 2014, etc.) for a stand-alone about a police detective, a developmentally delayed boy, and a package everyone in North Dakota wants to grab.

Cassandra Dewell can’t leave Montana’s Lewis and Clark County fast enough for her new job as chief investigator for Jon Kirkbride, sheriff of Bakken County. She leaves behind no memories worth keeping: her husband is dead, her boss has made no bones about disliking her, and she’s looking forward to new responsibilities and the higher salary underwritten by North Dakota’s sudden oil boom. But Bakken County has its own issues. For one thing, it’s cold—a whole lot colder than the coldest weather Cassie’s ever imagined. For another, the job she turns out to have been hired for—leading an investigation her new boss doesn’t feel he can entrust to his own force—makes her queasy. The biggest problem, though, is one she doesn’t know about until it slaps her in the face. A fatal car accident that was anything but accidental has jarred loose a stash of methamphetamines and cash that’s become the center of a battle between the Sons of Freedom, Bakken County’s traditional drug sellers, and MS-13, the Salvadorian upstarts who are muscling in on their territory. It’s a setup that leaves scant room for law enforcement officers or for Kyle Westergaard, the 12-year-old paperboy damaged since birth by fetal alcohol syndrome, who’s walked away from the wreck with a prize all too many people would kill for.

A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be welcome to return and tie up the gaping loose end Box leaves. The unrelenting cold makes this the perfect beach read.

Pub Date: July 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-58321-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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