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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After a flight in fantasy with When the Wind Blows (1998), Patterson goes to ground with another slash-and-squirm psychokiller page-turner, this one dedicated to “the millions of Alex Cross readers, who so frequently ask, can’t you write faster?” By day, Geoffrey Shafer is a charming, 42-year-old British Embassy paper-pusher with a picture-perfect family and a shady past as an MI-6 secret agent. Come sundown, he swallows a pharmacy of psychoactive pills, gulps three black coffees loaded with sugar, and roams the streets of Washington, D.C., in a battered cab, where, disguised as a black man, he rolls dice to determine which among his black female fares he—ll murder. Afterwards he dumps his naked victims in crime-infested back alleys of black- slum neighborhoods, then sends e-mails boasting of his accomplishments to three other former MI-6 agents involved in a hellish Internet role-playing game. “I sensed I was at the start of another homicide mess,” sighs forensic-psychologist turned homicide-detective Alex Cross. Cross yearns to catch the “Jane Doe murderer” but is thwarted by Det. Chief George Pittman, who assigns sexy Det. Patsy Hampton to investigate Cross and come up with a reason for dismissing him. Meanwhile, Cross’s fiancÇe is kidnaped during a Bermuda vacation, and an anonymous e-mail warns him to back off. He doesn’t, of course, and just when it appears that Patterson is sleep-walking through his story, Cross nabs Shafer minutes after Shafer kills Det. Hampton. During the subsequent high-visibility trail, Shafer manages to make the jury believe that he’s innocent and that Cross was trying to frame him. When all seems lost, a sympathetic British intelligence chief offers to help Cross bring down Shafer, and the other homicidal game-players, during a showdown on the breezy beaches of Jamaica. Kinky mayhem, a cartoonish villain, regular glimpses of the kindly Cross caring for his loved ones, and an ending that spells a sequel: Patterson’s fans couldn’t ask for more.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-69328-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1999

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