Perceptive storytelling energized by an admirable protagonist and refined prose.

ARTIFACTS OF DEATH

A MURDER MYSTERY IN UTAH'S CANYON COUNTRY

In the first of the Manny Rivera Mystery series, a collection of rare, valuable Native American pottery leads to deceit and murder.

Deputy Sheriff Manny Rivera is assigned to the case of a ranch hand found with a bullet hole in his head. The deputy, desperate to make up for a previously botched stakeout gig, tracks clues and hopes to solve the murder before the profitable tourist season in Moab, Utah, takes a hit. The killer, meanwhile, is trying to sell Native American artifacts that are apparently worth shooting someone for. He obtained the pottery illegally, on a ranch run by a man who, unbeknownst to Manny, found the body first and moved it to protect a secret. Curtin’s debut novel is easily labeled a murder mystery, but it’s more about the investigation than the whodunit, especially since the killer’s identity and motive are never a mystery. The real question is why Paul, the ranch foreman, drove the body far away from the ranch, a mystery that the author smartly keeps concealed until the end. Manny’s investigation consists mostly of interviews, but following along with the deputy is utterly absorbing and gratifying since he’s essentially the underdog; his intentions are to make amends for his last case and make an impression on the sheriff. Such drive makes Manny refreshingly modest; he’s more critical of his mistakes than anyone else. The same likable qualities are, surprisingly, also shown in Frank, the man who kills the ranch hand. His discharge from the Army is followed by a succession of tedious jobs, and he’s treated poorly by his current employer. A sympathetic person, he’s a man whose greed is a character flaw, not a defining trait, and he clearly feels regret over the murder. Curtin’s descriptions of arid Moab are poetic: a mesa “sliced by a labyrinth of rugged canyons,” the “exquisite silence” of the high desert country and the “plumes of dust” Frank sees as he spots his buyer from afar. Unfortunately, one mystery—the genuine identity of the murdered man—isn’t answered, although perhaps that’s for another Manny Rivera tale.

Perceptive storytelling energized by an admirable protagonist and refined prose.

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2011

ISBN: 978-1453890851

Page Count: 302

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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The first of Woods’ many collaborations to be unquestionably inferior to his solo performances.

JACKPOT

CIA operative–turned-killer Teddy Fay, aka Hollywood producer Billy Barnett, gets his fifth sort-of-starring role in a splashy, muddled thriller set in Macau.

Centurion Studios president Ben Bacchetti and his partner, director Peter Barrington, see no reason why their visit to the Macau Film Festival should be all business. They’re dismayed when their visit to a baccarat table at the Golden Desert Casino and Resort is used as material for a deep-fake video that seems to show them cheating. The video, which has evidently been engineered by Bing-Wen “Bingo” Jo, bids fair drag them into the iron grip of fearsome media/casino mogul Arrow Donaldson, for whom Bingo works off the books on matters concerning digital technology and violence. But Centurion producer Teddy, who’s every bit the equal of Bingo and Donaldson fixer Zhou "Ziggy" Peng put together, is on the case. His improbable sometime partners are Li Feng, the heiress and CFO of QuiTel who’s fighting to keep her company exempt from the U.S. blacklist of competing Chinese telecom corporations suspected of spying, and Millie Martindale, a CIA administrator who’s a lot more resourceful than most administrators you’ll ever meet. The first partnership between Woods and Quertermous is full of casino underlings, biddable cops, fake shootings, and doubles living and dead. But the plot never thickens, and readers confident that Teddy will live to fight, pressure, cheat, and kill another day may be indifferent to the fate of the nefarious forces arrayed against him.

The first of Woods’ many collaborations to be unquestionably inferior to his solo performances.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18845-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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