Riddled with implausible situations and light on the research, this plodding tale is for die-hard Baldacci fans only.

THE LAST MILE

Amos Decker, Baldacci’s hulking former NFL player and one-time police investigator, is back for a case involving death row inmates, a brutal double murder, and a shattered sports career.

When readers first met Amos Decker, he was a socially inept giant mired in the past; his wife, daughter, and brother-in-law were brutally murdered in Decker’s own home. Living out of a tiny motel room and working as a private investigator, Decker finally solved their murders and helped the FBI put a relentless killer to bed. Now, Decker has reported for duty at a special FBI unit to work cold cases. Commanded by Special Agent Ross Bogart, the unit includes journalist Alexandra Jamison, clinical psychologist Lisa Davenport, and the sullen Todd Milligan, an FBI field agent. The team reports for their first day of duty and almost immediately travels from Quantico to Texas to work the case of a former NFL shoo-in, Melvin Mars, who—on the brink of the pro football draft—was arrested, charged, and convicted of killing his parents. But on the eve of Mars’ execution, another man in another state, also on death row, confesses to killing the pair. Upon their arrival in Texas, the team from Quantico finds the case against Mars makes less and less sense. When readers first met Decker, he was maladjusted and brilliant, his NFL career cut short by a vicious hit that altered his life and left him with perfect recall. And it was his incredible memory that solved his cases. This new, improved, vanilla Decker is less interesting than the damaged hero Baldacci first introduced. And while the case starts out with plenty of potential, Decker’s incredible memory really isn’t flexed much here, so it’s ultimately solved by ordinary detective work.

Riddled with implausible situations and light on the research, this plodding tale is for die-hard Baldacci fans only.

Pub Date: April 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4555-8645-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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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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King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

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THE INSTITUTE

The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie.

Tim Jamieson is a man emphatically not in a hurry. As King’s (The Outsider, 2018, etc.) latest opens, he’s bargaining with a flight attendant to sell his seat on an overbooked run from Tampa to New York. His pockets full, he sticks out his thumb and winds up in the backwater South Carolina town of DuPray (should we hear echoes of “pray”? Or “depraved”?). Turns out he’s a decorated cop, good at his job and at reading others (“You ought to go see Doc Roper,” he tells a local. “There are pills that will brighten your attitude”). Shift the scene to Minneapolis, where young Luke Ellis, precociously brilliant, has been kidnapped by a crack extraction team, his parents brutally murdered so that it looks as if he did it. Luke is spirited off to Maine—this is King, so it’s got to be Maine—and a secret shadow-government lab where similarly conscripted paranormally blessed kids, psychokinetic and telepathic, are made to endure the Skinnerian pain-and-reward methods of the evil Mrs. Sigsby. How to bring the stories of Tim and Luke together? King has never minded detours into the unlikely, but for this one, disbelief must be extra-willingly suspended. In the end, their forces joined, the two and their redneck allies battle the sophisticated secret agents of The Institute in a bloodbath of flying bullets and beams of mental energy (“You’re in the south now, Annie had told these gunned-up interlopers. She had an idea they were about to find out just how true that was"). It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps.

King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-1056-7

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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