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

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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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A kicky, kinky, wildly inventive 21st-century mashup with franker language and a higher body count than Hamlet.

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SHAKESPEARE FOR SQUIRRELS

Manic parodist Moore, fresh off a season in 1947 San Francisco (Noir, 2018), returns with a rare gift for Shakespeare fans who think A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be perfect if only it were a little more madcap.

Cast adrift by pirates together with his apprentice, halfwit giant Drool, and Jeff, his barely less intelligent monkey, Pocket of Dog Snogging upon Ouze, jester to the late King Lear, washes ashore in Shakespeare’s Athens, where Cobweb, a squirrel by day and fairy by night, takes him under her wing and other parts. Soon after he encounters Robin Goodfellow (the Puck), jester to shadow king Oberon, and Nick Bottom and the other clueless mechanicals rehearsing Pyramus and Thisby in a nearby forest before they present it in celebration of the wedding of Theseus, Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, the captive Amazon queen who’s captured his heart, Pocket (The Serpent of Venice, 2014, etc.) finds Robin fatally shot by an arrow. Suspected briefly of the murder himself, he’s commissioned, first by Hippolyta, then by the unwitting Theseus, to identify the Puck’s killer. Oh, and Egeus, the Duke’s steward, wants him to find and execute Lysander, who’s run off with Egeus’ daughter, Hermia, instead of marrying Helena, who’s in love with Demetrius. As English majors can attest, a remarkable amount of this madness can already be found in Shakespeare’s play. Moore’s contribution is to amp up the couplings, bawdy language, violence, and metatextual analogies between the royals, the fairies, the mechanicals, his own interloping hero, and any number of other plays by the Bard.

A kicky, kinky, wildly inventive 21st-century mashup with franker language and a higher body count than Hamlet.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-243402-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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