Grade A for franchise allusions, B-minus for dialogue, C for backstage atmosphere, and F for plotting, since Goldsborough...

MURDER, STAGE LEFT

Archie Goodwin goes undercover, unconvincingly and unsuccessfully, in Goldsborough’s 12th Nero Wolfe pastiche (Stop the Presses!, 2015, etc.).

Having just closed a case that brought him a big retainer, Wolfe, currently immersed in reading The Hidden Persuaders and Silent Spring, isn’t eager to listen to rival orchid grower Lewis Hewitt’s friend Broadway producer Roy Breckenridge. Even after he responds to the irresistible bait Hewitt dangles before him, Wolfe learns little from Breckenridge’s account of vague misgivings about his production of Death at Cresthaven despite its laudatory reviews and respectable box office earnings. Since Wolfe leaves home only to visit his barber, he sends Archie to poke around in the guise of one Alan MacGregor, a writer for the fictitious StageArts Canada, recalling Archie's similar role in Rex Stout's If Death Ever Slept (1957). Archie’s cover keeps his interviews with Tony-hungry leading lady Ashley Williston, Hollywood action star Brad Lester, juvenile Steve Peters, ingénue Melissa Cartwright, character actors Max Ennis and Teresa Reed, and stage manager Hollis Sperry anodyne, and he’s looking elsewhere when somebody spikes Breckenridge’s Coca-Cola with arsenic. Wolfe, predictably miffed—though no more miffed than Inspector Cramer or Lon Cohen, Archie’s pal at the New York Gazette—summons the suspects seriatim to his brownstone, spots a telltale omission few readers will notice, and announces the culprit at a ritual gathering of them all at the same venerable location.

Grade A for franchise allusions, B-minus for dialogue, C for backstage atmosphere, and F for plotting, since Goldsborough relies on the same relentlessly unvaried Q-and-A that gave golden-age mysteries such a bad name. As the new homicide cop says: “This has been one colossal waste of time.”

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5040-4111-9

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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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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POP GOES THE WEASEL

After a flight in fantasy with When the Wind Blows (1998), Patterson goes to ground with another slash-and-squirm psychokiller page-turner, this one dedicated to “the millions of Alex Cross readers, who so frequently ask, can’t you write faster?” By day, Geoffrey Shafer is a charming, 42-year-old British Embassy paper-pusher with a picture-perfect family and a shady past as an MI-6 secret agent. Come sundown, he swallows a pharmacy of psychoactive pills, gulps three black coffees loaded with sugar, and roams the streets of Washington, D.C., in a battered cab, where, disguised as a black man, he rolls dice to determine which among his black female fares he—ll murder. Afterwards he dumps his naked victims in crime-infested back alleys of black- slum neighborhoods, then sends e-mails boasting of his accomplishments to three other former MI-6 agents involved in a hellish Internet role-playing game. “I sensed I was at the start of another homicide mess,” sighs forensic-psychologist turned homicide-detective Alex Cross. Cross yearns to catch the “Jane Doe murderer” but is thwarted by Det. Chief George Pittman, who assigns sexy Det. Patsy Hampton to investigate Cross and come up with a reason for dismissing him. Meanwhile, Cross’s fiancÇe is kidnaped during a Bermuda vacation, and an anonymous e-mail warns him to back off. He doesn’t, of course, and just when it appears that Patterson is sleep-walking through his story, Cross nabs Shafer minutes after Shafer kills Det. Hampton. During the subsequent high-visibility trail, Shafer manages to make the jury believe that he’s innocent and that Cross was trying to frame him. When all seems lost, a sympathetic British intelligence chief offers to help Cross bring down Shafer, and the other homicidal game-players, during a showdown on the breezy beaches of Jamaica. Kinky mayhem, a cartoonish villain, regular glimpses of the kindly Cross caring for his loved ones, and an ending that spells a sequel: Patterson’s fans couldn’t ask for more.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-69328-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1999

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