WILDERNESS

Though still capable of terrific stretches of unadorned action, shorthand atmosphere, and downbeat comic dialogue, Parker (the Spenser detective series) has become a painfully self-conscious prophet of liberated macho—especially here, with an obviously autobiographical hero: athletic, middle-aging Aaron Newman, who writes books "about courage and the matter of honor. . . ." Aaron witnesses a murder one day while out running, identifies the killer to the police—it's mobster Adolph Karl—but then refuses to testify, because Karl's thugs have terrorized his professor wife Janet and are threatening them both. But such knuckling-under means humiliation (and open-ended fear) for Aaron, so he starts thinking about killing Karl. . . and finds two eager accomplices in muscle-man neighbor Chris ("the Michelangelo of machismo") and tough-talking Janet. They stake out Karl's Boston-area home, scuffle with some thugs, and kill once in self-defense when Karl sends a hitman to Aaron's house. (Parker's nicest touch: the hitman's tender relationship with his spouse of 20 years.) Then, increasingly impatient and bloodthirsty, the trio (Janet has learned to shoot) stalks Karl to his well-guarded woods-and-lake retreat in Maine—where Parker's already-tenuous control over tone and credibility pretty much collapses: the trio attempts to take on all five mobsters there, Janet kills, Chris is killed, Aaron says "Well, it's you and me now, babe," and (while running through the woods and preparing for a final showdown) they discuss their relationship, with lines like "The pressure of your thwarted romanticism is not pleasant. . . ." Yes, quite a pair, and all ends with some grisly hand-to-hand underwater combat between Aaron and Karl—and winking congratulations from the cops when they later find the thugs' bodies. The action itself is fine and gruesome, the non-marital dialogue is Parker-perfect. But too often this seems like a cut-rate, de-nuanced ripoff of Deliverance; and certainly Parker could have found a less contrived and melodramatic forum for examining the relationship between a sensitive macho man and an even more macho lady.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0440193281

Page Count: 130

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1979

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

ECHO BURNING

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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