The scattershot mystery is consistently upstaged by Hollywood gossip. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

THE SHARPEST NEEDLE

As Hitler’s troops mass at the Polish border during Hollywood’s annus mirabilis of 1939, Paramount costume designer Edith Head and her amanuensis, Lillian Frost, are saddled with a much smaller mystery. At least it looks smaller.

Someone signing themselves Argus has been sending silent film star Marion Davies anonymous notes as cryptic as they are menacing. And not just Marion, best known these days as the mistress of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, but retired makeup artist Clarence Baird and his pinochle buddy, assistant director Rudi Vollmer. Having heard all about Edith and Lillian’s earlier sleuthing successes, Marion wants them to make Argus stop. In short order, the two women arrange to meet with Clarence and Rudi; Edith alertly identifies Clarence as Argus; and Clarence, presumably stricken by guilt, kills himself. Except his death isn’t really a suicide, as LAPD Detective Gene Morrow, Lillian’s former swain, indicates, and the notes from Argus don’t stop—they just switch from handwritten to typewritten. Clearly there’s more going on here, and Lillian suspects it’s connected to a spike in local interest in the work of Paolo Montsalvo, Mussolini’s favorite painter, and the reappearance of American-born Nazi Kaspar Biel, whose role as cultural attaché only hints at his involvement in deep-laid secrets. Among the many celebrity cameos—Orson Welles, Wally Westmore, Mitchell Leisen, Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, Paulette Goddard, Charlie Chaplin—the most notable is the absence of Marion’s cousin Herman Mankiewicz, who fed Welles much of the insider material for Citizen Kane.Maybe Patrick is saving him for the next installment.

The scattershot mystery is consistently upstaged by Hollywood gossip. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7278-8928-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Severn House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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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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Generations may succeed generations, but Sandford’s patented investigation/action formula hasn’t aged a whit. Bring it on.

THE INVESTIGATOR

A domestic-terrorist plot gives the adopted daughter of storied U.S. Marshal Lucas Davenport her moment to shine.

Veteran oilman Vermilion Wright knows that losing a few thousand gallons of crude is no more than an accounting error to his company but could mean serious money to whomever’s found a way to siphon it off from wells in Texas’ Permian Basin. So he asks Sen. Christopher Colles, Chair of Homeland Security and Government Affairs, to look into it, and Colles persuades 24-year-old Letty Davenport, who’s just quit his employ, to return and partner with Department of Homeland Security agent John Kaiser to track down the thieves. The plot that right-winger Jane Jael Hawkes and her confederates, most of them service veterans with disgruntled attitudes and excellent military skills, have hatched is more dire than anything Wright could have imagined. They plan to use the proceeds from the oil thefts to purchase some black-market C4 essential to a major act of terrorism that will simultaneously express their alarm about the country’s hospitality to illegal immigrants and put the Jael-Birds on the map for good. But they haven’t reckoned with Letty, another kid born on the wrong side of the tracks who can outshoot the men she’s paired with and outthink the vigilantes she finds herself facing—and who, along with her adoptive father, makes a memorable pair of “pragmatists. Really harsh pragmatists” willing to do whatever needs doing without batting an eye or losing a night’s sleep afterward.

Generations may succeed generations, but Sandford’s patented investigation/action formula hasn’t aged a whit. Bring it on.

Pub Date: April 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-32868-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2022

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