A riveting mystery tale with a compelling lead character.




In Winokur’s Iceland-set debut thriller, a forensic scientist’s investigation into her twin brother’s long-ago disappearance may have ties to present-day murders.

The first thing that Brynja Pálsdóttir notices about the mysterious paper scroll she receives at her office is the red ribbon tied around it. It’s just like the one that she wore in her hair as a child—the one that her twin brother, Lúkas, was holding for her on the day he disappeared, 20 years ago. Inside the scroll is an unsigned poem that implies that her “other half” is in a cellar somewhere. Brynja, the busy director of forensic sciences at Legacy Genetics in Southwest Iceland, decides to investigate further, starting with the Book of Möðruvellir—a set of ancient manuscripts that collect Icelandic family sagas, which the poem also cryptically references. However, she finds that her migraine headaches, which she hasn’t had in years, have returned; at the same time, she’s maintaining a secret engagement to Icelandic Prime Minister Ari Ketilsson and also trying to determine what’s wrong with her father, who apparently has some form of dementia. Then, one day, an acquaintance suddenly collapses in her office. He’d eaten doughnuts that someone had anonymously sent to Brynja, and doctors suspect poison. Moreover, she believes that a new poem, which accompanied the doughnuts, is a warning of an imminent attack against the Icelandic Parliament. In the coming days, more verses appear, and more poisonings follow—some of which prove fatal. Certain that Lúkas’ disappearance is connected to the killings, Brynja races to find answers before anyone else gets hurt. Winokur’s story is planted firmly in Icelandic history. For example, Legacy has a national database of DNA profiles of Icelanders—not a criminal database but a repository of “our collective DNA,” as Brynja puts it, which plays a role in the story. The author also sees to it that subplots serve multiple dramatic purposes. For example, citizens’ protests against the databases are a possible threat not only to Brynja’s job, but also to her engagement; an attractive actress named Ásta is stirring up the protests as well as openly flirting with the prime minister. Despite the story’s density, Winokur smartly keeps the focus on the central mystery of the brother’s fate instead of merely compiling a suspect list—and fortunately, the able protagonist rarely lets her debilitating headaches slow her down. As a forensic scientist, she often works with the police department, so she begins the novel looking into an unrelated missing person case. This effectively introduces Detective Superintendent Henning Holt, who makes for a convincing antagonist; he’s barely able to restrain his hostility toward the younger woman, who has the forensic position that he wanted. The best characters, however, are Brynja’s allies, including her reliable, supportive childhood friend Stína and her new, Danish assistant, Elly Sørensen, who helpfully asks frequent questions about Icelandic customs. Winokur’s compact descriptions keep things moving along briskly even when they detail aspects of DNA and RNA testing.

A riveting mystery tale with a compelling lead character.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020


Page Count: -

Publisher: Anchor House Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.


Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.


FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast finds evil afoot in his latest action-filled adventure (Verses for the Dead, 2018, etc.).

Imagine Florida beachcombers’ shock when they discover a shoe with a severed foot inside. Soon they see dozens more feet, all in identical shoes, bobbing toward the beach. Police and FBI ultimately count more than a hundred of them washing up on Sanibel and Captiva Islands' tranquil shores. Pendergast teams up with the junior Special Agent Armstrong Coldmoon to investigate this strange phenomenon. Oceanographers use a supercomputer to analyze Gulf currents and attempt to determine where the feet entered the ocean. Were they dumped off a ship or an island? Does each one represent a homicide? Analysts examine chemical residues and pollen, even the angle of each foot’s amputation, but the puzzle defies all explanation. Attention focuses on Cuba, where “something terrible was happening” in front of a coastal prison, and on China, the apparent source of the shoes. The clever plot is “a most baffling case indeed” for the brilliant Pendergast, but it’s the type of problem he thrives on. He’s hardly a stereotypical FBI agent, given for example his lemon-colored silk suit, his Panama hat, and his legendary insistence on working alone—until now. Pendergast rarely blinks—perhaps, someone surmises, he’s part reptile. But equally odd is Constance Greene, his “extraordinarily beautiful,” smart, and sarcastic young “ward” who has “eyes that had seen everything and, as a result, were surprised by nothing.” Coldmoon is more down to earth: part Lakota, part Italian, and “every inch a Fed.” Add in murderous drug dealers, an intrepid newspaper reporter, coyotes crossing the U.S.–Mexico border, and a pissed-off wannabe graphic novelist, and you have a thoroughly entertaining cast of characters. There is plenty of suspense, and the action gets bloody.

Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4725-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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