NIGHT RITUALS

Right on the heels of his first adult novel (Murphy's Herd, a 1989 western, not reviewed) comes this skilled but derivative cops-vs.-serial-killer story from Paulsen, a prolific and two-time Newbery-winning children's author. Paulsen trumpets his new-found adult subject matter with a vengeance: page one finds the unnamed serial killer, as a child, graphically molested by his mom; a few pages and decades later, a janitor at Denver's Stapleton Airport finds a woman's severed breast in a discarded bag. Into this swamp wades Denver homicide cop Ed "Push" Tincker, strong but sensitive—the kind of cop who gets drunk and obsessively drives by his ex-wife's house—and not beyond stepping outside the law to see justice done. "Please don't let this be a cutter," Push hopes, but of course it is, a maniac who—as it's gradually revealed—is not only reenacting Aztec blood rituals, but is an airplane pilot. Could he be the shadowy pilot-husband of the woman with whom Push is having a torrid affair? Sometime after the killer outwits a police ambush and snuffs Push's partner, Push starts to think so, and so do we; but author Paulsen's not that blatant, and the killer turns out to be another pilot altogether. Determined not to let this madman off ("If he arrested Harvitt and proceeded through normal channels the son of a bitch would skate. . .Harvitt had to die"), Push buys a first-class seat and flies Harvitt's next flight to Seattle—a set-up for the exciting return flight and novel's finale, when a crazed Harvitt aims his plane like a javelin for Salt Lake City's Mormon Temple as Push muscles up for some do-or-die heroics. A mess of clich‚s (for a more original Aztec-ritual serial-killer scenario, see William Heffernan's Ritual, p. 74)—but all handled with expert care and rotated at such a rapid pace that the final result is satisfyingly gripping, if familiar, entertainment.

Pub Date: July 28, 1989

ISBN: 0553288172

Page Count: -

Publisher: Donald Fine

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1989

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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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TRUE BETRAYALS

Thoroughbreds and Virginia blue-bloods cavort, commit murder, and fall in love in Roberts's (Hidden Riches, 1994, etc.) latest romantic thriller — this one set in the world of championship horse racing. Rich, sheltered Kelsey Byden is recovering from a recent divorce when she receives a letter from her mother, Naomi, a woman she has believed dead for over 20 years. When Kelsey confronts her genteel English professor father, though, he sheepishly confesses that, no, her mother isn't dead; throughout Kelsey's childhood, she was doing time for the murder of her lover. Kelsey meets with Naomi and not only finds her quite charming, but the owner of Three Willows, one of the most splendid horse farms in Virginia. Kelsey is further intrigued when she meets Gabe Slater, a blue-eyed gambling man who owns a neighboring horse farm; when one of Gabe's horses is mated with Naomi's, nostrils flare, flanks quiver, and the romance is on. Since both Naomi and Gabe have horses entered in the Kentucky Derby, Kelsey is soon swept into the whirlwind of the Triple Crown, in spite of her family's objections to her reconciliation with the notorious Naomi. The rivalry between the two horse farms remains friendly, but other competitors — one of them is Gabe's father, a vicious alcoholic who resents his son's success — prove less scrupulous. Bodies, horse and human, start piling up, just as Kelsey decides to investigate the murky details of her mother's crime. Is it possible she was framed? The ground is thick with no-goods, including haughty patricians, disgruntled grooms, and jockeys with tragic pasts, but despite all the distractions, the identity of the true culprit behind the mayhem — past and present — remains fairly obvious. The plot lopes rather than races to the finish. Gambling metaphors abound, and sexual doings have a distinctly equine tone. But Roberts's style has a fresh, contemporary snap that gets the story past its own worst excesses.

Pub Date: June 13, 1995

ISBN: 0-399-14059-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

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