DIRT

Eased out of the NYPD, lawyer/shamus Stone Barrington (New York Dead, 1991) is free to mix with an even sleazier crowd: a vicious pair of blackmailers and their equally slimy victims. Stone's client, gossip columnist Amanda Dart, has no rivals in dishing dirt on New York celebs until the faxes headed ``DIRT'' start to spew from her own machine. The faxes know about her cozy liaison with an out-of-town developer; they know who she had dinner with, and who each of her dinner guests is sleeping with; they know that she's hired Stone to stop the flow of faxes; and they gleefully predict that it won't do a bit of good. Meantime, DIRT is also being dished on American Infiltrator editor Allan Peebles, a cut below Amanda in class and courage; and DIRT is warming up for the coup de grÉce against a third target. Stone isn't taking all this unauthorized faxing lying down, of course; he's allowing Amanda to seduce him, putting the moves on aspiring journalist Arrington Carter, and even (in Woods's most hilariously gratuitous scene) getting naked with a suspect's sister. In between bouts, he's discovering a passel of wiretaps encumbering the privacy of himself and those who sign his paychecks, and sending a retired NYPD colleague out on a surveillance detail that'll end in the morgue. The first half of the novel, highlighted by the bevy of willing, well-toned women taking their turns at Stone's shrine, is confidently, even amusingly predictable. But once Amanda's publisher Dick Hickock, presumably impressed by Stone's flurry of activity, decides to hire him on his own hook, the case begins to fall apart, as Stone's clients begin to pull in contrary directions and finally take matters into their own vigorous, aimless hands. Unmoored from their formulaic roles, Woods's tawdry avengers don't have enough substance to go it on their own. Besides, it hardly seems fair to the poor blackmailers when they're badly outnumbered by well-armed victims too despicable to root for. ($275,000 ad/promo combined with paperback publication of Choke)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-06-017666-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1996

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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 quirky and distinctive heroine headlines this fun and fast-paced thriller loaded with cinematic flourishes.

PRETTY AS A PICTURE

Murder and mayhem plague a film set on a secluded island off the coast of Delaware in Little’s (Dear Daughter, 2015, etc.) sophomore thriller.

When film editor Marissa Dahl takes a job on a new film directed by the talented but temperamental Tony Rees, she’s not given a script and must sign a mile-long nondisclosure agreement. It’s not ideal, but she needs the work. Escorted by an attractive ex–Navy SEAL named Isaiah, Marissa arrives on Kickout Island to find a bustling set, headquartered at a beautiful hotel, that is cloaked in secrecy and beset with dysfunction. Once Marissa gets down to work, she realizes that picking up the slack from the previous editor, who was fired for unknown reasons, won’t be smooth sailing and that the movie is based on the real-life unsolved murder of aspiring actress Caitlyn Kelly 25 years ago on that very island. Most folks assume that an eccentric ferry captain named Billy Lyle, a friend of Caitlyn’s, was the killer, but there was never enough evidence to convict. A few people, however, think he may be innocent. Marissa sets out to discover what really happened to Caitlyn with the help of Isaiah and two intrepid, tech-savvy 13-year-olds—Grace Portillo and Suzy Koh, whose parents work for the hotel. What she finds is a dead body and a whole lot of trouble. Readers fascinated with the behind-the-scenes machinations of a movie set will be enthralled, plus there’s a frisson of romantic tension between Isaiah and Marissa, and the island setting lends some spooky atmosphere. Snippets from Grace and Suzy’s true-crime podcast, Dead Ringer, are also sprinkled throughout. Though a killer on the loose adds a fair bit of urgency in the second half, the main focus is on Little’s singular narrator. Marissa relates to the world primarily through film and considers herself anything but typical: “It’s possible I’ve spent so much time watching movies that the language of film has infiltrated some primal, necessary part of my brain. I catch myself processing my own emotions in scenes, in shots, in dialogue.”

A quirky and distinctive heroine headlines this fun and fast-paced thriller loaded with cinematic flourishes.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-670-01639-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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