Hard-core fans might make it through these thickets of haphazard plot. But sloppy prose and unappealing characters mark a...

THE MULBERRY TREE

Billionaire leaves his widow nothing but a ramshackle farmhouse.

Mousy Lillian doesn’t complain. She’d always been content to hide in the corners of rich Jimmie Manville’s life, anyway. He doted on his plump little wife, though plenty of people wondered why he didn’t get a woman who wasn’t afraid of her own shadow. Surely he had a reason for leaving his fortune to the sister and brother he hated, or perhaps he was planning to change his will before he died in a plane crash. In any case, Lillian believes that challenging the will is fruitless: she lied about her age when she signed her marriage certificate, so the marriage wasn’t even legal. On the advice of Jimmie’s lawyer, she takes a new identity as Bailey James, gets a nose job, then slinks off to the farmhouse in rural Virginia. Her consuming grief has made her lose weight, so now she’s actually beautiful, just like that. She renovates the place and swaps life stories with hunky carpenter Matt Longacre. As Bailey gossips with nosy neighbors Patsy and Janice (the trio has started a jam-making business), she hears the story of six local boys who, years ago, saved a rural high school from being blown up by a bomb. Acclaimed as heroes, they went their separate ways . . . some now dead, some still living. The six had some connection to Bailey’s dear departed husband—but what? When she finally figures it out and realizes that the harelipped teenager in an old photo is Jimmie, and that Jimmie had changed his name, the mystery is solved. The nasty sister and brother who’ve laid claim to Jimmie’s billions may not be his relations at all. Bailey puts down her jam spoon and goes after what’s rightfully hers.

Hard-core fans might make it through these thickets of haphazard plot. But sloppy prose and unappealing characters mark a low for the perhaps too-prolific Deveraux, author of “twenty-seven New York Times bestsellers” (The Summerhouse, 2001, etc.).

Pub Date: July 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-671-01421-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2002

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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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No wonder Scarpetta asks, “When did my workplace become such a soap opera?” Answer: at least 10 years ago.

FLESH AND BLOOD

Happy birthday, Dr. Kay Scarpetta. But no Florida vacation for you and your husband, FBI profiler Benton Wesley—not because President Barack Obama is visiting Cambridge, but because a deranged sniper has come to town.

Shortly after everyone’s favorite forensic pathologist (Dust, 2013, etc.) receives a sinister email from a correspondent dubbed Copperhead, she goes outside to find seven pennies—all polished, all turned heads-up, all dated 1981—on her garden wall. Clearly there’s trouble afoot, though she’s not sure what form it will take until five minutes later, when a call from her old friend and former employee Pete Marino, now a detective with the Cambridge Police, summons her to the scene of a shooting. Jamal Nari was a high school music teacher who became a minor celebrity when his name was mistakenly placed on a terrorist watch list; he claimed government persecution, and he ended up having a beer with the president. Now he’s in the news for quite a different reason. Bizarrely, the first tweets announcing his death seem to have preceded it by 45 minutes. And Leo Gantz, a student at Nari’s school, has confessed to his murder, even though he couldn’t possibly have done it. But these complications are only the prelude to a banquet of homicide past and present, as Scarpetta and Marino realize when they link Nari’s murder to a series of killings in New Jersey. For a while, the peripheral presence of the president makes you wonder if this will be the case that finally takes the primary focus off the investigator’s private life. But most of the characters are members of Scarpetta’s entourage, the main conflicts involve infighting among the regulars, and the killer turns out to be a familiar nemesis Scarpetta thought she’d left for dead several installments back. As if.

No wonder Scarpetta asks, “When did my workplace become such a soap opera?” Answer: at least 10 years ago.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-232534-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 23, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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