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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Proficient but eminently predictable. Amid all the time shifts and embedded backstories, the most surprising feature is how...

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THE A LIST

A convicted killer’s list of five people he wants dead runs the gamut from the wife he’s already had murdered to franchise heroine Ali Reynolds.

Back in the day, women came from all over to consult Santa Clarita fertility specialist Dr. Edward Gilchrist. Many of them left his care happily pregnant, never dreaming that the father of the babies they carried was none other than the physician himself, who donated his own sperm rather than that of the handsome, athletic, disease-free men pictured in his scrapbook. When Alexandra Munsey’s son, Evan, is laid low by the kidney disease he’s inherited from his biological father and she returns to Gilchrist in search of the donor’s medical records, the roof begins to fall in on him. By the time it’s done falling, he’s serving a life sentence in Folsom Prison for commissioning the death of his wife, Dawn, the former nurse and sometime egg donor who’d turned on him. With nothing left to lose, Gilchrist tattoos himself with the initials of five people he blames for his fall: Dawn; Leo Manuel Aurelio, the hit man he’d hired to dispose of her; Kaitlyn Todd, the nurse/receptionist who took Dawn’s place; Alex Munsey, whose search for records upset his apple cart; and Ali Reynolds, the TV reporter who’d helped put Alex in touch with the dozen other women who formed the Progeny Project because their children looked just like hers. No matter that Ali’s been out of both California and the news business for years; Gilchrist and his enablers know that revenge can’t possibly be served too cold. Wonder how far down that list they’ll get before Ali, aided once more by Frigg, the methodical but loose-cannon AI first introduced in Duel to the Death (2018), turns on them?

Proficient but eminently predictable. Amid all the time shifts and embedded backstories, the most surprising feature is how little the boundary-challenged AI, who gets into the case more or less inadvertently, differs from your standard human sidekick with issues.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5101-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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A top-notch psychological thriller.

COLD COLD HEART

In Hoag’s (The 9th Girl, 2013, etc.) latest, talented young newscaster Dana Nolan is left to navigate a psychological maze after escaping a serial killer.

While recuperating at home in Shelby Mills, Indiana, Dana meets her former high school classmates John Villante and Tim Carver. Football hero Tim is ashamed of flunking out of West Point, and now he’s a sheriff’s deputy. After Iraq and Afghanistan tours, John’s home with PTSD, "angry and bitter and dark." Dana survived abduction by serial killer Doc Holiday, but she still suffers from the gruesome attack by "the man who ruined her life, destroyed her career, shattered her sense of self, damaged her brain and her face." What binds the trio is their friend Casey Grant, who's been missing five years, perhaps also a Holiday victim, even if "[t]he odds against that kind of coincidence had to be astronomical." Hoag’s first 100 pages are a gut-wrenching dissection of the aftereffects of traumatic brain injury: Dana is plagued by "[f]ear, panic, grief, and anger" and haunted by fractured memories and nightmares. "Before Dana had believed in the inherent good in people. After Dana knew firsthand their capacity for evil." Impulsive and paranoid, Dana obsesses over linking Casey’s disappearance to Holiday, with her misfiring brain convincing her that "finding the truth about what had happened to Casey [was] her chance of redemption." But then Hoag tosses suspects into the narrative faster than Dana can count: Roger Mercer, Dana’s self-absorbed state senator stepfather; Mack Villante, who left son John with "no memories of his father that didn’t include drunkenness and cruelty"; even Hardy, the hard-bitten, cancer-stricken detective who investigated Casey’s disappearance. Tense, tightly woven, with every minor character, from Dana’s fiercely protective aunt to Mercer’s pudgy campaign chief, ratcheting up the tension, Hoag’s narrative explodes with an unexpected but believable conclusion.

A top-notch psychological thriller.

Pub Date: Jan. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-525-95454-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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