CHANCE

A missing mafia son-in-law leads Spenser and Hawk (Thin Air, 1995, etc., etc.) across the country and back to some alarmingly intricate, high-level double-dealing. It's obvious that Shirley Meeker's husband Anthony is a bum, so why does her father, important thug Julius Ventura, want his brainless courier back? And why would Marty Anaheim, a capo for Gino Fish's gang, be so interested in Spenser's current commission that he'd have him tailed? Smelling an in-house ripoff by the courier, Spenser follows a hunch (lot of those this time) and takes off with mean Hawk and beauteous Susan for Las Vegas, where, sure enough, Anthony turns up, playing a progressive system he's positive will net him all the money there is. Spenser knows there's got to be more to the story, and there is: Anthony's sharing a toothbrush with Marty's wife Bibi. For reasons of his own, Spenser agrees to keep Ventura off Anthony and Bibi for a few days—just long enough for Shirley to follow her husband to Vegas and get herself raped, beaten, and strangled. Then, in short order, Anthony disappears again, and so does Bibi, whom softhearted Spenser puts on a plane to L.A. to vanish without realizing that she wants to disappear from him too. Just when you're thinking that Spenser's coasting on his earlier reputation, the guy actually starts to do some detective work, uncovering secrets back in Boston that link the few characters who weren't already involved with each other, and tying the whole scheming lot into a struggle for control of the Boston mob. Spenser will redeem his missteps through the usual quota of strutting showdowns ("I had four. Usually that was enough, and would have to be again. After all, I had one more bullet than attackers") before the curtain comes down for good on the bad guys' necks. A '90s update of The Big Sleep with some of its celebrated model's structural problems: deeply satisfying page by page, but more than a little disjointed in retrospect.

Pub Date: May 21, 1996

ISBN: 0-399-14134-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1996

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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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The racism, classism, and sexism of 50 years ago wrapped up in a stylish, sexy, suspenseful period drama about a newsroom...

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LADY IN THE LAKE

Baltimore in the 1960s is the setting for this historical fiction about a real-life unsolved drowning.

In her most ambitious work to date, Lippman (Sunburn, 2018, etc.) tells the story of Maddie Schwartz, an attractive 37-year-old Jewish housewife who abruptly leaves her husband and son to pursue a long-held ambition to be a journalist, and Cleo Sherwood, an African-American cocktail waitress about whom little is known. Sherwood's body was found in a lake in a city park months after she disappeared, and while no one else seems to care enough to investigate, Maddie becomes obsessed—partly due to certain similarities she perceives between her life and Cleo's, partly due to her faith in her own detective skills. The story unfolds from Maddie's point of view as well as that of Cleo's ghost, who seems to be watching from behind the scenes, commenting acerbically on Maddie's nosing around like a bull in a china shop after getting a job at one of the city papers. Added to these are a chorus of Baltimore characters who make vivid one-time appearances: a jewelry store clerk, an about-to-be-murdered schoolgirl, "Mr. Helpline," a bartender, a political operative, a waitress, a Baltimore Oriole, the first African-American female policewoman (these last two are based on real people), and many more. Maddie's ambition propels her forward despite the cost to others, including the family of the deceased and her own secret lover, a black policeman. Lippman's high-def depiction of 1960s Baltimore and the atmosphere of the newsroom at that time—she interviewed associates of her father, Baltimore Sun journalist Theo Lippman Jr., for the details—ground the book in fascinating historical fact.The literary gambit she balances atop that foundation—the collage of voices—works impressively, showcasing the author's gift for rhythms of speech. The story is bigger than the crime, and the crime is bigger than its solution, making Lippman's skill as a mystery novelist work as icing on the cake.

The racism, classism, and sexism of 50 years ago wrapped up in a stylish, sexy, suspenseful period drama about a newsroom and the city it covers.

Pub Date: July 23, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-239001-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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