TOWN ON TRIAL

The shifting nature of truth and the difference between appearance and reality are the themes of a nicely crafted legal thriller by author/attorney Harrington (Endgame in Berlin, 1991). Alexandria seems like your basic quaint Ohio Valley town peopled with rustics who belong to the Rotary and Kiwanis, shoot deer in the forest, and pray at night to preserve property values from strangers. But then Alexandria gets caught up in the sensational trial of Park Avenue socialite/art dealer Marietta Rheinlander, accused of murdering her congressman lover, Charles Bailey, and two aides at his rural retreat. The 40-year-old Rheinlander, portrayed via Harrington's documentary, pro-and-con style as a second-tier Vanity Fair cheesecake, is the only stereotyped character in a multilayered story narrated by aging trial judge Bill McIntyre, who was born and reared in Alexandria and comes across as a judiciously fair man. He's also the deus ex machina of the plot, guiding readers through points of law and a pantheon of mainly WASP-named players. McIntyre makes it plain at the outset that the case against Rheinlander seems open and shut: Not only was she spotted standing over Bailey's body with a smoking .38-caliber Smith & Wesson, which bears her fingerprints, she was also observed fleeing the death scene in her rented red Oldsmobile. Will this rich, sophisticated New Yorker receive justice in a locale that appears to celebrate the opinions of Dan Quayle? In the rather contrived ending, she does—but not before homegrown county prosecutor Ken Simpson catches Rheinlander in a lie about the number of times she was forced to perform fellatio on the bachelor congressman, whom big-city defense lawyer Lloyd George Kimball suggests was gay and could have been murdered by a homosexual lover wearing gloves. The pacing is like a brisk tennis match as arguments go back and forth in Harrington's gripping take on reasonable doubt.

Pub Date: May 18, 1994

ISBN: 1-55611-393-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Donald Fine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1994

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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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