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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A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be...

BADLANDS

Box takes another break from his highly successful Joe Pickett series (Stone Cold, 2014, etc.) for a stand-alone about a police detective, a developmentally delayed boy, and a package everyone in North Dakota wants to grab.

Cassandra Dewell can’t leave Montana’s Lewis and Clark County fast enough for her new job as chief investigator for Jon Kirkbride, sheriff of Bakken County. She leaves behind no memories worth keeping: her husband is dead, her boss has made no bones about disliking her, and she’s looking forward to new responsibilities and the higher salary underwritten by North Dakota’s sudden oil boom. But Bakken County has its own issues. For one thing, it’s cold—a whole lot colder than the coldest weather Cassie’s ever imagined. For another, the job she turns out to have been hired for—leading an investigation her new boss doesn’t feel he can entrust to his own force—makes her queasy. The biggest problem, though, is one she doesn’t know about until it slaps her in the face. A fatal car accident that was anything but accidental has jarred loose a stash of methamphetamines and cash that’s become the center of a battle between the Sons of Freedom, Bakken County’s traditional drug sellers, and MS-13, the Salvadorian upstarts who are muscling in on their territory. It’s a setup that leaves scant room for law enforcement officers or for Kyle Westergaard, the 12-year-old paperboy damaged since birth by fetal alcohol syndrome, who’s walked away from the wreck with a prize all too many people would kill for.

A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be welcome to return and tie up the gaping loose end Box leaves. The unrelenting cold makes this the perfect beach read.

Pub Date: July 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-58321-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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