Another rousing wartime thriller that gets its facts and its storytelling right.

RED ICON

A sixth entry from the case files of troubled Finnish detective Inspector Pekkala.

This is another exciting historical thriller from the prolific Eastland (The Beast in the Red Forest, 2014, etc.), the pen name for American literary novelist Paul Watkins (Ice Soldier, 2005, etc.). This entry finds Pekkala working in two eras. We first meet him working as Czar Nicholas' right-hand man in pre-Revolutionary Russia, a role that puts him in the middle of political intrigue and pits him against the mystic Rasputin, who entranced the czar’s wife with his care of their hemophiliac son. The other strand of the book takes place in 1945 as the war rages on and Pekkala is one of Stalin’s most trusted investigators. The item linking these two sides of the story is a rare icon called “The Shepherd,” which Pekkala believed was destroyed by a mad priest in 1914. When two Russians discover the icon in a grave in a country church outside Berlin, the dictator orders Pekkala to investigate its authenticity. What doesn't change between the two stories is Pekkala, with his fierce intelligence and wounded heart. “There are some things from which a man does not recover,” Eastland writes. “There is no hiding place deep enough inside the catacombs of his brain where he can hide the memories. They will always find their way out, baying like wolves in the black tunnels of his mind until they reach the light again. The only thing that he can do is let them come, fighting the nightmares until even the demons which brought them grow sick of the carnage.” The author takes his fragile hero down some impressively murky tunnels as Pekkala tracks the icon’s origins to a creepy, true-life secret sect of Russian outcasts known as the Skoptsy, or “castrated ones.” Worse, the madmen have gotten their hands on a little-known German nerve agent called the Sartaman Project and are threatening to use their weapon of mass destruction.

Another rousing wartime thriller that gets its facts and its storytelling right.

Pub Date: Dec. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62316-086-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: OPUS

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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Lame but, like its predecessors, bound for bestsellerdom.

HOUR GAME

A serial killer with a sense of history is the baddie in this latest from Baldacci, one of the reigning kings of potboilers (Split Second, 2003, etc.).

He kills, he leaves clues, he flatters through imitation: Son of Sam, the San Francisco Zodiac killer, Richard Ramirez, John Wayne Gracy, and so on down a sanguinary list of accredited members of the Monsters’ Hall of Fame. Suddenly, the landscape of poor little Wrightsburg, Virginia, is littered with corpses, and ex-Secret Service agents Sean King and Michelle Maxwell have their hands full. That’s because bewildered, beleaguered Chief of Police Todd Williams has turned to the newly minted private investigating firm of King and Maxwell for desperately needed (unofficial) help. Even these ratiocinative wizards, however, admit to puzzlement. “But I'm not getting this,” says Michelle. “Why commit murders in similar styles to past killers as a copycat would and then write letters making it clear you’re not them?” Excellent question, and it goes pretty much unanswered. Never mind—enter the battling Battles, a family with the requisite number of sins and secrets to qualify fully as hot southern Gothic and to prop up a plot in need. Bobby Battles, the patriarch, is bedridden, but Remmy, his wife, is one lively mischief-making steel magnolia. She’s brought breaking-and-entering charges against decent local handyman Junior Deaver, who as a result languishes in the county jail. Convinced of his innocence, Junior’s lawyer hires King & Maxwell to sniff around for exculpatory evidence. Well, will the two plot streams flow together? You betcha. Will the copycat-serial-killer at one point decide that King and Maxwell are just too clever to live? Inevitably. And when at last that CCSK’s identity is revealed and his crimes explained (talkily and tediously), will readers be satisfied? Only the charitable among them.

Lame but, like its predecessors, bound for bestsellerdom.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 2004

ISBN: 0-446-53108-1

Page Count: 440

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2004

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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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