Manera’s novel extrapolates the corrosive effects of big money in electoral politics and winds up with the assassination of a sitting U.S. president.
Former esteemed jurist and newly elected President Elizabeth Stone is riding high after winning the White House as an independent candidate and successfully pushing through a Constitutional amendment giving the chief executive the line item veto. Then, strolling along the beach with the Canadian prime minister, she and five Secret Service agents are mercilessly gunned down. Manera’s thinly veiled polemic against Washington, D.C.’s stagnant status quo starts out promisingly enough, as the authorities immediately set out to hunt down the heartless shooter. Early suspects briefly include the slain president’s historian hubby as well as her ambitious vice president. But before things get too interesting, the authorities have their man: Karl Schmidt, a vengeful small-time crook who happened to end up on the wrong side of Elizabeth Stone’s gavel when she was still on the bench. That Schmidt did the dirty deed is never in question, but George Baker, a dedicated FBI agent, believes somebody—or some persons—put him up to it. Enter the Company of Friends, a secretive Star Chamber–like institution bent on inflating their already piggish coffers by any means necessary. If that means offing the POTUS, then so be it. Readers already fed up with the influence of money in American democracy will sadly not find any of this too outlandish; that doesn’t mean they are likely to find it compelling, though. The narrative’s backward-facing plot relies too heavily on expository passages to explain events when it should be engaging in real action: “Liz realized that if she was going to dramatically reduce wasteful government spending, as she had promised during the campaign, she would need the authority to veto specific expenditures included in the annual budget passed by Congress.” Characters are similarly wooden and difficult to care about, while the foregone conclusion involving the Friends’ comeuppance is hardly revelatory.

A crime-of-the-century plot that, while making a good case for getting money out of politics, struggles to generate real drama. 

Pub Date: May 22, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499647556

Page Count: 310

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2014

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.


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 suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be...


Box takes another break from his highly successful Joe Pickett series (Stone Cold, 2014, etc.) for a stand-alone about a police detective, a developmentally delayed boy, and a package everyone in North Dakota wants to grab.

Cassandra Dewell can’t leave Montana’s Lewis and Clark County fast enough for her new job as chief investigator for Jon Kirkbride, sheriff of Bakken County. She leaves behind no memories worth keeping: her husband is dead, her boss has made no bones about disliking her, and she’s looking forward to new responsibilities and the higher salary underwritten by North Dakota’s sudden oil boom. But Bakken County has its own issues. For one thing, it’s cold—a whole lot colder than the coldest weather Cassie’s ever imagined. For another, the job she turns out to have been hired for—leading an investigation her new boss doesn’t feel he can entrust to his own force—makes her queasy. The biggest problem, though, is one she doesn’t know about until it slaps her in the face. A fatal car accident that was anything but accidental has jarred loose a stash of methamphetamines and cash that’s become the center of a battle between the Sons of Freedom, Bakken County’s traditional drug sellers, and MS-13, the Salvadorian upstarts who are muscling in on their territory. It’s a setup that leaves scant room for law enforcement officers or for Kyle Westergaard, the 12-year-old paperboy damaged since birth by fetal alcohol syndrome, who’s walked away from the wreck with a prize all too many people would kill for.

A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be welcome to return and tie up the gaping loose end Box leaves. The unrelenting cold makes this the perfect beach read.

Pub Date: July 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-58321-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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