Rowling proves once again that she’s a master of plotting over the course of a series; you can see her planting seeds,...

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THE SILKWORM

From the The Cormoran Strike Novels series , Vol. 2

In her second pseudonymous outing as Galbraith, J.K. Rowling continues her examination of fame—those who want it, those who avoid it, those who profit from it.

Cormoran Strike, Rowling’s hard-living private eye, isn’t as close to the edge as he was in his first appearance, The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013). His success at proving supermodel Lula Landry was murdered has brought him more clients than he can handle—mostly businessmen who think their lovers are straying and divorcing wives looking for their husbands’ assets—and he’s even rented a small apartment above his office near Charing Cross Road. His accidental temp–turned-assistant, Robin Ellacott, is dying to stretch her investigative muscles, but she has to deal with her fiance, Matthew, who still wishes she’d taken that better-paying job in human resources. Then odd sad-sack Leonora Quine comes in asking Strike to find her missing husband, Owen, a fading enfant terrible novelist. Strike soon discovers that Owen had written a baroque fantasy novel in which he exposed the secrets of everyone he knows—including his editor, publisher and a famous writer with whom he had a falling out years earlier—and his agent had just sent it out for consideration. Rowling has great fun with the book industry: Editors, agents and publishers all want to meet the detective, but only over lunches at fancy restaurants where he’s expected to foot the bill. It’s no big surprise when Strike finds the writer’s dead body—though it’s certainly gruesome, as someone killed him in the same extravagantly macabre way he disposed of the villain of his unpublished book. As Strike tries to figure out who murdered Owen, the writer is splashed across the front pages of the tabloids in a way he would have loved when he was alive, while the detective tries to play down his own growing fame.

Rowling proves once again that she’s a master of plotting over the course of a series; you can see her planting seeds, especially when it comes to Robin, which can be expected to bear narrative fruit down the line. It will be a pleasure to watch what happens.

Pub Date: June 19, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-316-20687-7

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

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Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless...

SPLIT SECOND

Two defrocked Secret Service Agents investigate the assassination of one presidential candidate and the kidnapping of another.

Baldacci (The Christmas Train, 2002, etc.) sets out with two plot strands. The first begins when something distracts Secret Service Agent Sean King and during that “split second,” presidential candidate Clyde Ritter is shot dead. King takes out the killer, but that’s not enough to save his reputation with the Secret Service. He retires and goes on to do often tedious but nonetheless always lucrative work (much like a legal thriller such as this) at a law practice. Plot two begins eight years later when another Secret Service Agent, Michelle Maxwell, lets presidential candidate John Bruno out of her sight for a few minutes at a wake for one of his close associates. He goes missing. Now Maxwell, too, gets in dutch with the SS. Though separated by time, the cases are similar and leave several questions unanswered. What distracted King at the rally? Bruno had claimed his friend’s widow called him to the funeral home. The widow (one of the few characters here to have any life) says she never called Bruno. Who set him up? Who did a chambermaid at Ritter’s hotel blackmail? And who is the man in the Buick shadowing King’s and Maxwell’s every move? King is a handsome, rich divorce, Maxwell an attractive marathon runner. Will they join forces and find each other kind of, well, appealing? But of course. The two former agents traverse the countryside, spinning endless hypotheses before the onset, at last, of a jerrybuilt conclusion that begs credibility and offers few surprises.

Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless concoction.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2003

ISBN: 0-446-53089-1

Page Count: 406

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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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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