MASTER OF THE MOOR

It happened with Dick Francis, Ross Macdonald, and many others: a superb, underrated suspense writer finally achieves some wider recognition. . . just when he or she is producing weaker work. And now that seems to be the case with Ruth Rendell: this new non-detective, psycho-crime novel is a book club selection—but it's far less impressive than Rendell's recent work in either detection (Death Notes, A Sleeping Life) or crime (Make Death Love Me, A Judgement in Stone). Someone is killing young blonde women on the moors near Hilderbridge. And all evidence points the reader to central character Stephen Walby, 30—an obviously disturbed fellow who finds the first body. After all, Stephen is puritanical, impotent (though wed to nice Lyn), obsessed with the moor (he believes himself to be the illegitimate grandson of a famed moor novelist), and was long ago deserted by a blonde mother; also, he secretly locates the killer's lair—in a cave on the moor. Is Stephen himself the schizoid killer, then? Or are there two psychos wandering around the moor? Plus—things get even more complicated when Stephen clearly does kill blonde wife Lyn (who's been understandably unfaithful) and tries to pass off the murder as one of the moor killings. . . until Lyn then turns up alive (!). How can this be? Well, Rendell uses one of the creakiest of ancient, implausible plot-twists to explain Lyn's survival. And the denouement—when Stephen comes face to face with the killer in the cave-lair—will surprise no reasonably alert reader. So, despite Rendell's ever-sharp prose and the effective moor/village atmosphere, this is thin, contrived psycho-crime storytelling—without the ironic inventiveness or the psychological conviction of A Judgement in Stone (or even The Lake of Darkness); and it would be a pity if newcomers to Rendell got their first impression of her from this distinctly under-par effort.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 1982

ISBN: 0345341473

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1982

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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 MIDNIGHT CLUB

Patterson's thrillers (Virgin, 1980; Black Market, 1986) have plummeted in quality since his promising debut in The Thomas Berryman Number (1976)—with this latest being the sorriest yet: a clanky and witless policer about a criminal mastermind and the cop sworn to take him down. Aside from watching sympathetic homicide dick John ("Stef") Stefanovich comeing to terms with a wheelchair-bound life—legacy of a shotgun blast to the back by drug-and-gun-running archfiend Alexandre St.-Germain—the major interest here lies in marvelling at the author's trashing of fiction convention. The whopper comes early: although St.-Germain is explicity described as being machine-gunned to death by three vigilante cops in a swank brothel (". . .a submachine gun blast nearly ripped off the head of Alexandre St.-Germain"; "The mobster's head and most of his neck had been savaged by the machine-gun volley. The body looked desecrated. . ."), before you know it this latter-day Moriarty is stepping unscathed out of an airplane. What gives? Authorial cheating, that's what—thinly glossed over with some mumbling later on about a "body double." Not that St.-Germain's ersatz death generated much suspense anyway, with subsequent action focusing on, among other items, the gory killings of assorted mob bosses by one of the vigilante cops, and Stef's viewing of pornographic tapes confiscated from that brothel. But readers generous enough to plod on will get to read about the newly Lazarus-ized St.-Germain's crass efforts to revitalize and consolidate the world's crime syndicates ("the Midnight Club"), Stef's predictable tumble for a sexy true-crime writer, and how (isn't one miracle enough for Patterson?) at book's end Stef walks again and gets to embrace a rogue cop who's murdered several people. Ironsides with a badge and a lobotomy.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1988

ISBN: 0446676411

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1988

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