An engrossing crime drama that’s both entertaining and provocative.

COVEY JENCKS

In this debut novel, a lawyer travels home to Texas intent on solving a murder that has forever haunted him.

Covey Jencks grew up in Odessa, Texas, anxious to flee its confines for something grander. His mother died and his father was a scoundrel living out his last years in a nursing home, so Covey left for college, a stint in the Army, and then law school. But he still felt the magnetic pull of his native town and the aching mystery of an unsolved murder with which he remained obsessed. In 1979, when Covey was a junior in high school, a black woman named Alfreda “Freddie” Mae Johnson was stabbed to death, and her husband, Cleon, was quickly charged and convicted of the crime. Freddie was an employee of Covey’s father as well as the manager of her stable of prostitutes, and the teen was always very fond of her. He was shaken by her murder and unconvinced of Cleon’s responsibility. Years later, Covey quits his high-paying job as a lawyer in Washington, D.C., and moves back to Odessa, starting a law practice of his own that focuses on oil and gas. The real reason, though, for his return is that he feels compelled to finally find Freddie’s real killer and bring clarity to a puzzle that has bedeviled him for years. He reignites a relationship with his black high school girlfriend, Bonnie Jay—back then known as B.J., now as JayJay—and she becomes his investigative partner and confidante. Together, they uncover a progressively dark series of truths about a dangerous criminal enterprise Freddie had become enmeshed in—and had struggled to extricate herself from—that involved the illegal trafficking of women across the Mexican border into the United States.  Williams seamlessly braids a murder mystery with a love story and a drama about the pervasiveness of racism in the South. Most of the tale is narrated in the first person by Covey until the novel’s voice fractures into the varying perspectives of the main characters, a device that effectively fleshes out the full story without awkwardly adopting a third-person account. The author’s prose is buoyantly eccentric, both insightful and self-effacingly humorous. And the clues Covey and JayJay track down are meted out to readers with impressive judiciousness: The author never prematurely surrenders so much information that the conclusion is rendered foregone while the tale’s swift pace prevents it from becoming tedious. Furthermore, Williams provides a perspicacious commentary on the paradox of racial prejudice. It can assert itself in monstrously bombastic ways—for example, the prideful violence of the Ku Klux Klan—but it can be so nuanced that its purveyors remain unaware of it. At one point, Covey tells JayJay: “I am acting on the assumption that most people, even the cops, just live with prejudice and don’t resort to KKK terrorism. You know, some racism bubbles over the top and some is simply on permanent low reserve.” Covey often wonders if he really is, in some deeply fundamental way, a racist despite his loathing of bigotry and his sincere love for JayJay. 

An engrossing crime drama that’s both entertaining and provocative. 

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-985482-56-2

Page Count: 260

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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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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No wonder Scarpetta asks, “When did my workplace become such a soap opera?” Answer: at least 10 years ago.

FLESH AND BLOOD

Happy birthday, Dr. Kay Scarpetta. But no Florida vacation for you and your husband, FBI profiler Benton Wesley—not because President Barack Obama is visiting Cambridge, but because a deranged sniper has come to town.

Shortly after everyone’s favorite forensic pathologist (Dust, 2013, etc.) receives a sinister email from a correspondent dubbed Copperhead, she goes outside to find seven pennies—all polished, all turned heads-up, all dated 1981—on her garden wall. Clearly there’s trouble afoot, though she’s not sure what form it will take until five minutes later, when a call from her old friend and former employee Pete Marino, now a detective with the Cambridge Police, summons her to the scene of a shooting. Jamal Nari was a high school music teacher who became a minor celebrity when his name was mistakenly placed on a terrorist watch list; he claimed government persecution, and he ended up having a beer with the president. Now he’s in the news for quite a different reason. Bizarrely, the first tweets announcing his death seem to have preceded it by 45 minutes. And Leo Gantz, a student at Nari’s school, has confessed to his murder, even though he couldn’t possibly have done it. But these complications are only the prelude to a banquet of homicide past and present, as Scarpetta and Marino realize when they link Nari’s murder to a series of killings in New Jersey. For a while, the peripheral presence of the president makes you wonder if this will be the case that finally takes the primary focus off the investigator’s private life. But most of the characters are members of Scarpetta’s entourage, the main conflicts involve infighting among the regulars, and the killer turns out to be a familiar nemesis Scarpetta thought she’d left for dead several installments back. As if.

No wonder Scarpetta asks, “When did my workplace become such a soap opera?” Answer: at least 10 years ago.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-232534-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 23, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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