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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Child builds tension to unbearable extremes, then blows it out in sharply choreographed violence, even if his plot has more...


From the Jack Reacher series , Vol. 5

Smashingly suspenseful fifth in Child’s series (Running Blind, 2000, etc.) lands this British author’s rootless, laconic action hero in southwest Texas, where a femme fatale lures him into a family squabble that inevitably turns violent.

In the kind of daylight-noir setting that Jim Thompson loved, ex-military cop Jack Reacher has his thumb out on a lonely west Texas highway when he’s picked up by Carmine Greer, the Mexican-American wife of bad-ol’-boy Sloop Greer. It seems that Sloop, elder son of a white-trash-turned-oil-rich ranching dynasty, is nearing the end of a prison term for tax evasion, and Carmine, whose body Reacher sees is marked with signs of physical abuse, wants Reacher to be her bodyguard—or, failing that, kill the man in such a way that Carmine can still hold on to her terminally cute six-year-old daughter Ellie. Reacher refuses but decides to meet the folks: Rusty, Sloop’s racist, charmless mother, and Bobby, Sloop’s stupid, pugnacious brother. Meanwhile, a trio of paid assassins is littering the Texas roadside with corpses, starting with Sloop’s lawyer, Al Eugene. In a set-piece as good as anything in Elmore Leonard, Bobby sends two ranch-hands to ambush Reacher at an Abilene roadhouse filled with 20 other cowboys spoiling for a fight. Reacher walks away without a scratch, telling Bobby that his hospitalized ranch-hands have “quit.” Child twists his increasingly hokey plot into a pretzel when Sloop is found dead and Carmine confesses to killing him. Reacher just can’t believe that Carmine is guilty and teams up with Alice Aarons, a leggy Jewish lesbian fresh out of law school, who trusts him with her car, her handgun, and her life.

Child builds tension to unbearable extremes, then blows it out in sharply choreographed violence, even if his plot has more holes in it than the shirt Reacher uses for target practice.

Pub Date: July 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14726-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2001

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