Even with an overcooked plot, Baker’s narrative drive keeps you pressing ahead, and his style shows just enough energy and...

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FEVER CITY

Once more into the rabbit hole of conspiracies-in-high-places we go, this time through a noirish farrago of mid-20th century bad craziness.

In this rowdy pastiche of hard-boiled homage and alternative history, Baker assumes the daunting challenge of moving several sets of characters through three time frames. In one story arc, set in the summer of 1960, an LA private detective is hired by a wheelchair-bound megalomaniacal billionaire to recover his kidnapped child. In another, set in the fall of 1963, a professional hit man struggles to retain some individual honor as he gets entangled in a plot to assassinate President John F. Kennedy. And in present-day Dallas, an investigative journalist sifts through speculations, crackpot and otherwise, linking the kidnapping and JFK’s murder. Baker’s debut novel packs riffs and motifs borrowed from myriad American crime classics along with brutal, often graphic depictions of murder and mutilation. All of which is served with a heaping, steaming plate of paranoid scenarios involving, as one character has it, “The Mafia. Big Oil. The Intelligence Community. The Military Industrial Complex.” Along with the aforementioned characters and a motley (and familiar) assortment of sultry, secretive women and dim and/or brutal cops, the storylines are chockablock with cameos from such real-life personages as Sal Mineo, Chicago mobster Johnny Roselli, Howard Hughes, JFK in flagrante delicto, and Lee Harvey Oswald. There’s little if any verisimilitude in this blend that hasn’t been handled to deeper, richer effect by Don DeLillo and James Ellroy. And the whole raging mélange culminates in a plot twist that is just a shade beyond cute. Any one of his three storylines could have made a more satisfying novel than the one Baker slaps together here like a panini.

Even with an overcooked plot, Baker’s narrative drive keeps you pressing ahead, and his style shows just enough energy and romance to make you think he could get better with this genre thing as he goes along.

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-60945-287-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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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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Child builds tension to unbearable extremes, then blows it out in sharply choreographed violence, even if his plot has more...

ECHO BURNING

From the Jack Reacher series , Vol. 5

Smashingly suspenseful fifth in Child’s series (Running Blind, 2000, etc.) lands this British author’s rootless, laconic action hero in southwest Texas, where a femme fatale lures him into a family squabble that inevitably turns violent.

In the kind of daylight-noir setting that Jim Thompson loved, ex-military cop Jack Reacher has his thumb out on a lonely west Texas highway when he’s picked up by Carmine Greer, the Mexican-American wife of bad-ol’-boy Sloop Greer. It seems that Sloop, elder son of a white-trash-turned-oil-rich ranching dynasty, is nearing the end of a prison term for tax evasion, and Carmine, whose body Reacher sees is marked with signs of physical abuse, wants Reacher to be her bodyguard—or, failing that, kill the man in such a way that Carmine can still hold on to her terminally cute six-year-old daughter Ellie. Reacher refuses but decides to meet the folks: Rusty, Sloop’s racist, charmless mother, and Bobby, Sloop’s stupid, pugnacious brother. Meanwhile, a trio of paid assassins is littering the Texas roadside with corpses, starting with Sloop’s lawyer, Al Eugene. In a set-piece as good as anything in Elmore Leonard, Bobby sends two ranch-hands to ambush Reacher at an Abilene roadhouse filled with 20 other cowboys spoiling for a fight. Reacher walks away without a scratch, telling Bobby that his hospitalized ranch-hands have “quit.” Child twists his increasingly hokey plot into a pretzel when Sloop is found dead and Carmine confesses to killing him. Reacher just can’t believe that Carmine is guilty and teams up with Alice Aarons, a leggy Jewish lesbian fresh out of law school, who trusts him with her car, her handgun, and her life.

Child builds tension to unbearable extremes, then blows it out in sharply choreographed violence, even if his plot has more holes in it than the shirt Reacher uses for target practice.

Pub Date: July 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14726-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2001

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