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Blackwood Farm, Traps

The odd thing about Tarquin, or Quinn, is his ghostly twin, who's visible to only a few and turns from mischievous to malevolent as the years pass. The narrative is centered on Quinn's transformation and his efforts to understand then defeat his doppelganger.

Rice is a writer I have long loved to detest. She's fond of convoluted story lines that invariably leap into romanticized antiquity. The repetition of themes and characters means that phrases that ought to be evocative sound clichéd. When "I bore down with my teeth and the blood, this liquid fire, streamed into me" happens again and again, the words fail to compel. The book jacket describes "Blackwood Farm" as "capturing both the dramas and the subtleties of family," but there's almost nothing subtle about this story. Tarquin has two emotions: love and hate. He hates his uncaring mother. He loves his great-aunt, Lestat, the doting family servants and Mona, a lovely young witch. He loves and hates Goblin and his vampire maker.

Still, against my will, I became absorbed in this Gothic tale. The plot is fast-paced and fun to lose oneself in on a cold November night in front of the fireplace.

— Melissa Scott Sinclair



Potboiler

Stamped with Patricia Cornwell's approval, retired G-man Paul Lindsay's fifth novel, "Traps" (Simon & Schuster, $24), is full of the kind of gritty detail and authority that make for a thrilling read. Along the way, Lindsay also shares some unflattering impressions of the modern-day FBI, describing it as an often ineffective and even apathetic bureaucracy. Very few agents in Lindsay's bureau prove to be valuable at all in "Traps." The exceptions are Roy Thorne, the hard-nosed special agent in charge, and our two unlikely heroes, Jack Kincade, a once-promising agent who's turned corrupt, and his partner, Ben Alton, a troubled-but-honest cancer survivor, who, after losing his leg, is trying to prove his worth as an investigator.

As the novel opens, Jack's working on another bank heist in his spare time, setting money traps in night depositories to cover his gambling debts, when he's suddenly called to duty and teamed with Alton, after a bomb is discovered under the city jail. When Jack and Ben break open the case and find the bomber, though, the situation only intensifies. The terms? "Find my daughter's kidnapper," he says. "Or else."

If it sounds noir-ish and hard-boiled, well, it is and it isn't. There's plenty of swagger in "Traps," and some of the high stakes will keep the pages turning, but as is the case with many thrillers, the characters feel a little too familiar at times, almost two-dimensional.While Lindsay does a convincing job with the details associated with being an federal agent, the actual "mysteries" (there are a few) are resolved too quickly, leaving little time for the reader to wonder "who-dunnit?" and "how?" To Lindsay's credit, the mysteries come one after the other, raising the stakes as we go, but unfortunately, most of the thrill in this thriller isn't realized until the last 50 pages.

Lindsay's real-world experience infuses the text with enough authenticity to make us believe all the scams and threats, the slang and office jargon, as well as the insights and criticisms leveled at the entire bureau. — Larry
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