A quick, fun read. Rowling delivers a set of characters every bit as durable as her Potter people and a story that, though...

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THE CUCKOO'S CALLING

From the The Cormoran Strike Novels series , Vol. 1

Murderous muggles are up to no good, and it’s up to a seemingly unlikely hero to set things right.

The big news surrounding this pleasing procedural is that Galbraith, reputed former military policeman and security expert, is none other than J.K. Rowling, who presumably has no experience on the Afghan front or at Scotland Yard. Why the pseudonymous subterfuge? We may never know. What’s clear, and what matters, is that Galbraith/Rowling’s yarn is an expertly written exercise in both crime and social criticism of a piece with Rowling’s grown-up novel The Casual Vacancy (2012), even if her hero, private detective Cormoran Strike, bears a name that wouldn’t be out of place in her Harry Potter series. Strike is a hard-drinking, hard-bitten, lonely mess of a man, for reasons that Rowling reveals bit by bit, carefully revealing the secrets he keeps about his parentage, his time in battle and his bad luck. Strike is no Sherlock Holmes, but he’s a dogged pursuer of The Truth, in this instance the identity of the person who may or may not have relieved a supermodel of her existence most unpleasantly: “Her head had bled a little into the snow. The face was crushed and swollen, one eye reduced to a pucker, the other showing as a sliver of dull white between distended lids.” It’s an icky image, but no ickier than Rowling’s roundup of sinister, self-serving, sycophantic characters who inhabit the world of high fashion, among the most suspicious of them a fellow who’s—well, changed his name to pull something over on his audience (“It’s a long fucking way from Hackney, I can tell you...”). Helping Strike along as he turns over stones in the yards of the rich and famous is the eminently helpful Robin Ellacott, newcomer to London and determined to do better than work as a mere temp, which is what lands her at Strike’s door. The trope of rumpled detective and resourceful girl Friday is an old one, of course, but Rowling dusts it off and makes it new even as she turns London into a setting for her tale of mayhem as memorable as what Dashiell Hammett did with San Francisco in The Maltese Falcon.

A quick, fun read. Rowling delivers a set of characters every bit as durable as her Potter people and a story that, though no more complex than an Inspector Lewis episode, works well on every level.

Pub Date: April 30, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-316-20684-6

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2013

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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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