KILL FEE

A no-nonsense newsman tracks down a child sex-and-murder ring in Paulsen's second adult thriller, no more original than his first (Night Rituals, 1989) but as sleek and tightly controlled as the abundant juvenile fiction that's won him two Newbery Awards. Paulsen weaves his taut tale from three main plot lines that knot only in the last few pages. Most central is that of veteran Colorado crime-reporter Tally Janrus, who answers an urgent plea from a homicide cop: to help solve a nationwide series of sex-killings that have found several children mysteriously lying dead, battered and molested, in rural areas. Digging out leads from a sleazy fellow reporter, taking time out to visit his rancher girlfriend, Tally finally deduces that the dead kids were dropped from an airplane. Intercut with Tally's story is the multistrand tale of several villains, among them: Rev, an evangelist whose sideline is kidnapping children (including young Davey Hascombs, whose snatch and molestation give the novel its cruel, realistic edge) and turning them over to. . .amoral homosexual procurer Billee Constairs, who then sells the kids to. . .arch-criminal Carlyle Rissden, who pimps them to sadistic billionaires and then has them killed. Meanwhile, in further intercut chapters, an ancient and ill Hispanic waits by a lonely airstrip in New Mexico, rifle in hand, hoping to spot a drug-smuggling airplane and get a reward with which to buy medicine. When the plot lines tie up, a rough justice prevails; before then, Tally will have lost his girlfriend, leaving him at novel's end with only his journalist's code, his battered Olivetti, and "the story"—not enough for happiness, but probably enough for a sequel. A familiar tale, with echoes of Leonard, Vachss, and Chandler; but without a wasted word in the telling, and with sharply drawn characters, it's still lean, swift, and satisfying.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 1990

ISBN: 1556112033

Page Count: -

Publisher: Donald Fine

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1990

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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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