An often enjoyable thriller that’s sometimes hampered by awkward dialogue.

TRACKING THE BUTCHER

IN SEARCH OF A SERIAL KILLER

In Joiner’s (Hardened Hearts, 2018, etc.) thriller, a serial murderer stalks victims in Los Angeles while taunting one of the detectives investigating the crimes. 

Police Lt. Elgie Reynolds has been on desk duty for three months, following a suspension and treatment for alcoholism. His first case back in the field involves a sex worker who narrowly survived a vicious stabbing attack. It turns out that the unknown assailant’s unique pattern of attack—20 shallow wounds and two deep one—appeared in a West Hollywood murder case two weeks earlier. Cops suspect that it’s the work of a serial killer whom Reynolds ultimately dubs “the Butcher.” The killer sends a letter to a TV news station, implying impending murders and specifically mentioning lead investigator Reynolds. More victims do indeed turn up, but although the Butcher’s first two targets were sex workers, the new ones are unfaithful spouses. The Los Angeles Police Department creates a task force, but Reynolds’ superiors enlist another detective to take over the case. However, the Butcher has been regularly calling Reynolds to boast of his crimes, and he stays focused on the lieutenant. The cop has a hunch about the killer’s identity, but finding proof won’t be easy. The majority of Joiner’s novel consists of dialogue, which befits the story; after all, a procedural requires detectives to discuss the ongoing case at length. However, many exchanges feel unnecessarily stilted. Even a simple phone call can contain a good deal of filler, including repetitive greetings: “ ‘Hello, Lieutenant Reynolds?’ ‘Yes, this is Lieutenant Reynolds.’ ” Still, Joiner ensures that all the discourse is comprehensible, and that the characters are distinctive; Reynolds’ wife, Vanessa, for example, relates to a surviving victim by divulging a past trauma, and Lt. Rodney Gray annoys his fellow detectives with his excessive baseball metaphors. The mystery itself is sound, with a convincing and memorably unsettling wrap-up.

An often enjoyable thriller that’s sometimes hampered by awkward dialogue.

Pub Date: May 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-07-020443-7

Page Count: 274

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Aug. 26, 2019

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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