THE DEVIL'S WORKSHOP

A ho-hummer about hush-hush bio-weaponry in conspiratorial hands. Beautiful budding microbiologist Stacy Richardson, sitting for the orals that will lock up her Ph.D., gets a horrifying phone call. Her adored husband, she’s told, has taken his own life. Suicide? Not for a nanosecond can Stacy believe such a thing. Max’steadfast, positive in outlook, brilliant (head of the University of Southern California’s microbiology department)—had too much to live for, including luscious Stacy. She zips over to Fort Detrick (Maryland) from USC, on fire to get to the bottom of what she, and every experienced reader, is certain will prove a conspiracy. Max had been at Detrick, on detached service, working on a species of “killer proteins” called Prions. He’d been helping Dr. Dexter DeMille, number-one microbiologist in the field. But to do exactly what? It’s a program overseen by fanatical (diabolical also applies) Admiral James G. Zoll, who hints at basic instability and maybe a touch of substance abuse as the causes of Max’s suicide. He’s hiding something, Stacy intuits, while taking umbrage. Supported by unlikely allies (a burnt-out case of an ex-marine, a lost soul of a Hollywood producer), she launches a relentless investigation. Undercover bio-weaponry is what they’re up to at Fort Detrick, she discovers, a secret attempt to redesign Prions as a special kind of bacteriological agent: smart germs that can tell foe from friend and act accordingly. But the program is thoroughly illegal. Not that this is a matter of much concern to Admiral Zoll, whose patriotism has long since crowded into zealotry and who wants America’s germs to be unsurpassed. So there’s Stacy, willing to die to clear Max’s name, and Admiral Zoll, ready to murder to protect his program. Blood in buckets before resolution. Television veteran Cannell’s fifth subpar thriller (Riding the Snake, 1998, etc.). He did much better work when he was writing The Rockford Files. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-688-16618-0

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

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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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