A lighthearted, formulaic, but ultimately satisfying mystery novel with a charming heroine.

Murder for a Cash Crop

A middle-aged mom decides to track down the arsonist who burned down her best friend’s house.

Nell Letterly, the brave heroine of Star’s (Murder in the Dojo, 2011) newest mystery tale, is just starting to get over her estranged husband when a freak accident rocks her hometown of Boulder, Colorado: A fire tears through the house of her best friend, Alice Albright. Alice had been running a struggling art gallery there, and suspicions begin to arise that she was selling newly legalized marijuana—without a license. Nell concludes, “I had to do something…I was going to free Alice from suspicion,” launching her into a twisted web of strange connections and revelations about the townspeople as she conducts her own investigation into the crime. Soon, bodies start turning up in the wake of the fire, including an old friend of Nell’s husband, and her determination to solve the puzzle intensifies. When Alice disappears in the middle of Nell’s search for the perpetrator, she starts to question her friend’s part in the crime. Is Alice an innocent bystander or is there something more sinister behind her innocent exterior? Nell is a scrappy private eye. “No wonder I had to solve his case for him,” she thinks after meeting one of the incompetent detectives working on the investigation. Nell chases down her leads—from the shady French cook who seems to know all the victims, to the spurned ex-wife of a famous painter—while juggling her responsibilities to her teenage daughter, and her own mixed emotions about her husband who abandoned her several months earlier. There’s a cinematic quality to this fast-paced, straightforward, easily digestible thriller, and it’s worth a read just to get close to the clever, “positively old-fashioned” Nell, who though out of touch as she might be, is an admirable, and relatable protagonist. At one point, she muses about pot: “Some thought it was nirvana, others thought it was evil incarnate. I just thought it was a poor substitute for meditation. Of course, I didn’t have experience with any stimulants other than meditation and heavy martial arts.” Star’s latest Nell Letterly mystery is like eating a slice of cake: nothing too substantial there, but enjoyable and delicious nonetheless, a guilty pleasure of a book perfect for the beach.

A lighthearted, formulaic, but ultimately satisfying mystery novel with a charming heroine.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: D.M. Kreg Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 25, 2016

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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