Though many of these stories are more interested in evoking a voice or mood than pursuing a plot to its conclusion, Vinnie...

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SANTA CRUZ NOIR

Sexologist Bright (The Best of Best American Erotica, 2008, etc.) joins the ranks of Akashic editors to rip the lid off the California coastal town that’s never seemed less laid-back.

Considering how small Santa Cruz is, the results here are all over the map except for one invariable rule: Nothing in these 20 new stories goes right. Not the lesbian romance Ariel Gore tracks in “Whatever Happened to Skinny Jane?” Not a community college teacher’s attempts to cover for her foundering student in Jessica Breheny’s "54028 Love Creek Road.” Not the summer-camp friendship Naomi Hirahara develops, then curtails, in “Possessed.” Not a college student’s search for her missing father, a noted Chinese chef, in Lou Mathews’ “Crab Dinners.” Not the attempts of sorely tried neighbors to impose the law on their neighborhoods in Micah Perks’ “Treasure Island” and Wallace Baine’s “Flaming Arrows.” Not the doomed romances between moneyed men and the women they pick up in Seana Graham’s “Safe Harbor” and Liza Monroy’s “Mischa and the Seal,” whose heroine gets sage telepathic advice from a seal. Among the strongest entries: An obstreperous 10-year-old interferes when her parents take in a student researcher in Margaret Elysia Garcia’s “Monarchs and Maidens”; Elizabeth McKenzie shows a teenage girl whose stint as a private eye gets even shakier when she has to avenge her dead client in “The Big Creep”; an aimless fling suddenly turns nasty in Beth Lisick’s “Pinballs”; and a Latino gangster hopes in vain that his son won’t follow in his footsteps in Dillon Kaiser’s “It Follows Until It Leads.”

Though many of these stories are more interested in evoking a voice or mood than pursuing a plot to its conclusion, Vinnie Hansen’s “Miscalculation” provides a textbook example of how many twists can fit into the simple tale of a bank teller’s adventures with the Guitar Case Bandit.

Pub Date: June 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61775-622-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Akashic

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 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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THE MIDNIGHT CLUB

Patterson's thrillers (Virgin, 1980; Black Market, 1986) have plummeted in quality since his promising debut in The Thomas Berryman Number (1976)—with this latest being the sorriest yet: a clanky and witless policer about a criminal mastermind and the cop sworn to take him down. Aside from watching sympathetic homicide dick John ("Stef") Stefanovich comeing to terms with a wheelchair-bound life—legacy of a shotgun blast to the back by drug-and-gun-running archfiend Alexandre St.-Germain—the major interest here lies in marvelling at the author's trashing of fiction convention. The whopper comes early: although St.-Germain is explicity described as being machine-gunned to death by three vigilante cops in a swank brothel (". . .a submachine gun blast nearly ripped off the head of Alexandre St.-Germain"; "The mobster's head and most of his neck had been savaged by the machine-gun volley. The body looked desecrated. . ."), before you know it this latter-day Moriarty is stepping unscathed out of an airplane. What gives? Authorial cheating, that's what—thinly glossed over with some mumbling later on about a "body double." Not that St.-Germain's ersatz death generated much suspense anyway, with subsequent action focusing on, among other items, the gory killings of assorted mob bosses by one of the vigilante cops, and Stef's viewing of pornographic tapes confiscated from that brothel. But readers generous enough to plod on will get to read about the newly Lazarus-ized St.-Germain's crass efforts to revitalize and consolidate the world's crime syndicates ("the Midnight Club"), Stef's predictable tumble for a sexy true-crime writer, and how (isn't one miracle enough for Patterson?) at book's end Stef walks again and gets to embrace a rogue cop who's murdered several people. Ironsides with a badge and a lobotomy.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1988

ISBN: 0446676411

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1988

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