A successful series hits a snag. This time out, the mortician/sleuth is unconvincing as a mortician and a stiff as a sleuth.

MURDER IN THE HEARSE DEGREE

Hitchcock Sewell, that bon vivant among undertakers, steps again, though less compellingly, into a breach created by police ineptitude, this time on behalf of a winsome, waiflike, mysteriously missing nanny: sweet Sophie Pitts, so innocent and inoffensive you’d think she’d be scoundrel-proof. Wrong. A wicked someone, having first seduced her, shoves her off the Naval Academy Bridge into the Severn River. Predictably, the feckless Annapolis PD pegs her death a suicide, but the determined demurral of Sophie’s grieving mom makes it a case for the half-owner of Sewell and Sons Family Funeral Home. To complicate matters, Sophie’s last employer was Libby Gellman, briefly Hitchcock’s lover, while her jealous, philandering, snake-in-the-grass husband impresses Hitch as an excellent candidate for scoundrel of choice—at least for a time. Digging further, handsome Hitch has as usual the help of a bevy of Baltimore beauties who seem not to mind that over the course of four books (The Hearse Case Scenario, 2002, etc.) he’s crossed the line from agreeably pun-prone to compulsively glib. When the dark doings of crooked Crawford Larue, the ex-con ex-governor of Kentucky, and his drastically misnamed Alliance of Reason and Kindness come to light, Hitch is halfway home, though the other half is an obstacle course of corpses, one of which will find its final rest in a Sewell and Sons casket.

A successful series hits a snag. This time out, the mortician/sleuth is unconvincing as a mortician and a stiff as a sleuth.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2003

ISBN: 0-7868-6712-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2002

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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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Joe’s fifth case is his best balanced, most deeply felt and most mystifying to date: an absolute must.

OUT OF RANGE

Crime-fighting Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett outdoes himself during a temporary transfer from sleepy Saddlestring to fashionable Jackson Hole.

Will Jensen, the Jackson game warden, was a great guy and a model warden, but once his wife left him six months ago, he spiraled into madness and suicide, and now Joe’s been called to replace him. The transition is anything but smooth. There’s no question of Joe’s family coming with him, so he’s reduced to hoping he can get a signal for the cell-phone calls he squeezes into his busy schedule. En route to his new posting, Joe has to pursue a marauding grizzly. He arrives to meet a formidable series of challenges. Cantankerous outfitter Smoke Van Horn wants to go on attracting elk with illegal salt licks without the new warden’s interference. Animal Liberation Network activist Pi Stevenson wants him to publicize her cause and adopt a vegan diet. Developer Don Ennis wants to open a housing development for millionaires who like their meat free of additives. Ennis’s trophy wife Stella simply wants Joe—and he wants her back. As he wrestles with these demands, and with a supervisor riled over Joe’s track record of destroying government property in pursuit of bad guys (Trophy Hunt, 2004, etc.), Joe slowly becomes convinced that Will did not kill himself.

Joe’s fifth case is his best balanced, most deeply felt and most mystifying to date: an absolute must.

Pub Date: May 5, 2005

ISBN: 0-399-15291-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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