Too long by a couple of hundred pages but still skillfully told, with a constantly gleeful interest in human awfulness.

TROUBLED BLOOD

J.K. Rowling returns with the fifth of her Cormoran Strike series of detective thrillers, and the blood flows fast.

At the opening, we find Strike at a pub—he’s never far from an adult beverage—when he’s approached by a young woman with a strange tale. Her mother, Margot Bamborough, a general practitioner, disappeared from her clinic—in 1974. Strike, working his first cold case, Googles the doctor’s name only to find that her disappearance had aspects in common with ones attributed to the very unpleasant Dennis Creed, who kidnapped, raped, murdered, and beheaded his victims—sometimes, in a choice that will raise red flags coming from Rowling, while dressed in women's clothes. Now locked away, Creed is just one of the suspects who emerges in the course of Rowling’s overlong but propulsive yarn, each of whom seems to have the job of pulling Strike away from the elusive truth. Fortunately, he has Robin Ellacott, his associate, to get him back on course: He is the muscle and the mover, prosthetic leg notwithstanding, but Robin has a talent for ferreting just the right bits of information out of people. And what people there are: a supposedly drug-addicted colleague of Margot's; the son of a cop who investigated the disappearance and slowly went mad in the process, leaving notebooks of speculation behind that increasingly turned toward the astrological and supernatural; prostitutes and minor drug dealers; a young man with a penchant for animal abuse; a philandering fellow, several of whose girlfriends wind up inconveniently dead; even a couple of vicious gangsters. Then there’s Creed himself, a minor Hannibal Lecter whom Strike takes pleasure in deflating: “She was murdered by a far more skillful killer than you ever were,” he tells the psychopath. Ouch! After wading through a barrel of red herrings, Rowling—beg pardon, Galbraith—delivers the real killer, the least obvious of the lot, and it’s a masterful, perfectly thought-through revelation.

Too long by a couple of hundred pages but still skillfully told, with a constantly gleeful interest in human awfulness.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-49893-7

Page Count: 944

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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Grisham fans will be pleased, graphic details of evil behavior and all.

A TIME FOR MERCY

A small-town Mississippi courtroom becomes the setting for a trademark Grisham legal tussle.

Stuart Kofer is not a nice guy. He drinks way too much and likes to brawl. One night, coming home in a foul mood with a blood alcohol count more than triple the legal limit, he breaks his live-in girlfriend’s jaw. He’s done terrible things to her children, too—and now her 16-year-old boy, Drew, puts an end to the terror. Unfortunately for the kid in a place where uniforms are worshipped, Stu was a well-liked cop. “Did it really matter if he was sixteen or sixty? It certainly didn’t matter to Stu Kofer, whose stock seemed to rise by the hour,” writes Grisham of local opinion about giving Drew the benefit of the doubt. Jake Brigance, the hero of the tale, is a lawyer who’s down to his last dime until a fat wrongful-death case is settled. It doesn’t help his bank book when the meaningfully named Judge Omar Noose orders him to defend the kid. Backed by a brilliant paralegal whose dream is to be the first Black female lawyer in the county, he prepares for what the local sheriff correctly portends will be “an ugly trial” that may well land Drew on death row. As ever, Grisham capably covers the mores of his native turf, from gun racks to the casual use of the N-word. As well, he examines Bible Belt attitudes toward abortion and capital punishment as well as the inner workings of the courtroom, such as jury selection: “What will your jury look like?” asks a trial consultant, to which Jake replies, “A regular posse. It’s rural north Mississippi, and I’ll try to change venue to another county simply because of the notoriety.” The story runs on a touch long, as Grisham yarns tend to do, and it gets a bit gory at times, but the level of tension is satisfyingly high all the way to the oddly inconclusive end.

Grisham fans will be pleased, graphic details of evil behavior and all.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54596-9

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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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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