It’s hard to imagine a more routine case. Only Jack’s sometimes-amusing, often rambling narration makes it worthwhile.

THE NOW-AND-THEN DETECTIVE

His third case pulls former Chicago cop Jack Starkey, mostly retired to Fort Myers, out of the Sunshine State back to his old stomping grounds and far beyond.

The people who knew old Henry Wilberforce back in Chicago didn’t think of him as a grocery-firm billionaire but as a generous, lovable oddball who shopped at supermarkets for strangers and still talked to his dog years after he’d died. But someone must have had it in for Henry, because he was murdered as he slept in his winter home in Naples. Naturally, Naples police chief Tom Sullivan reaches out to Jack (The Dollar-a-Year Detective, 2018, etc.) for help. Even though Henry’s left all his money to his charitable trust, the prime suspects are Nelson "Scooter" Lowry, his trust-fund nephew in Santa Monica; his socialite nieces, June Dumont and Libby Leverton; and their well-connected husbands, Washington attorney Alan Dumont and Boston developer Stewart Leverton. So after taking his affectionate leave of Fort Myers realtor Marisa Fernandez de Lopez and stopping off in the Windy City just long enough to eye the snow, refresh his appetite for the local sandwiches, and get the non-heirs’ addresses, Jack flies to LA, D.C., and Boston on the improbable grounds that he’ll learn something important from the looks in the relatives’ eyes when he tells them that the uncle they haven’t seen in years is not only dead, but murdered. Spoiler alert: He doesn’t. So he starts all over again, not by casting a wider net, but by making another round of trips to the relatives, who welcome him about as eagerly as you’d welcome most uninvited and unexpected guests. Jack finds their behavior so suspicious that he zeroes in on one of them, baits a trap with a young police officer hungry for promotion, and watches in satisfaction as the trap springs shut. Finis.

It’s hard to imagine a more routine case. Only Jack’s sometimes-amusing, often rambling narration makes it worthwhile.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-57962-588-7

Page Count: 214

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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A quirky and distinctive heroine headlines this fun and fast-paced thriller loaded with cinematic flourishes.

PRETTY AS A PICTURE

Murder and mayhem plague a film set on a secluded island off the coast of Delaware in Little’s (Dear Daughter, 2015, etc.) sophomore thriller.

When film editor Marissa Dahl takes a job on a new film directed by the talented but temperamental Tony Rees, she’s not given a script and must sign a mile-long nondisclosure agreement. It’s not ideal, but she needs the work. Escorted by an attractive ex–Navy SEAL named Isaiah, Marissa arrives on Kickout Island to find a bustling set, headquartered at a beautiful hotel, that is cloaked in secrecy and beset with dysfunction. Once Marissa gets down to work, she realizes that picking up the slack from the previous editor, who was fired for unknown reasons, won’t be smooth sailing and that the movie is based on the real-life unsolved murder of aspiring actress Caitlyn Kelly 25 years ago on that very island. Most folks assume that an eccentric ferry captain named Billy Lyle, a friend of Caitlyn’s, was the killer, but there was never enough evidence to convict. A few people, however, think he may be innocent. Marissa sets out to discover what really happened to Caitlyn with the help of Isaiah and two intrepid, tech-savvy 13-year-olds—Grace Portillo and Suzy Koh, whose parents work for the hotel. What she finds is a dead body and a whole lot of trouble. Readers fascinated with the behind-the-scenes machinations of a movie set will be enthralled, plus there’s a frisson of romantic tension between Isaiah and Marissa, and the island setting lends some spooky atmosphere. Snippets from Grace and Suzy’s true-crime podcast, Dead Ringer, are also sprinkled throughout. Though a killer on the loose adds a fair bit of urgency in the second half, the main focus is on Little’s singular narrator. Marissa relates to the world primarily through film and considers herself anything but typical: “It’s possible I’ve spent so much time watching movies that the language of film has infiltrated some primal, necessary part of my brain. I catch myself processing my own emotions in scenes, in shots, in dialogue.”

A quirky and distinctive heroine headlines this fun and fast-paced thriller loaded with cinematic flourishes.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-670-01639-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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