A rich, nuanced tale, ideal for beach reading, just as long as the beach doesn’t harbor too many shadows.

THE FIRE WITNESS

Superb, spooky whodunit from the Swedish couple who write as Kepler (The Nightmare, 2012, etc.).

Considering the nasty things that the likes of Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson and now Kepler have been turning up underneath Sweden’s soft, pine-clad, liberal veneer, it seems surprising that the entire country has not emigrated to safer climes. Some cannot, though, notably the young women who live at a home for wayward youth in the country’s chilly north—a place where Very Bad Things are about to happen. The mayhem begins with the extremely graphic murder of a ward nurse (“She cannot see her body lying on the floor or the dog sneaking in and tentatively lapping the blood leaking from her crushed head”), and that’s just the start. Enter world-weary detective Joona Linna, whom one of the girls tellingly calls “the Finn” and who really shouldn’t be on the case; he’s in trouble, it seems, for having leaked information to a leftist group back home in Stockholm, and in any event, he’s a little shellshocked, “searching for that mental stillness that will allow him to observe and not give in to the impulse to look away.” There’s plenty to look away from, though Joona immediately sees things that others do not, even as one of his informants sees a malevolent ghost in the hallways. But why would someone, real or supernatural, go to all the work of killing a nurse and trying to pin it on a troubled kid? Ah, cherchez la chose: Someone wants something, and that someone figures in the worst of Joona’s dreams and case files. As the story unfolds, the mad look sane and the sane look mad, and Kepler’s novel turns from simple mystery to an intriguing, satisfying blend of police procedural and horror story.

A rich, nuanced tale, ideal for beach reading, just as long as the beach doesn’t harbor too many shadows.

Pub Date: July 2, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-374-29866-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2013

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

BADLANDS

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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