Even so, Melville’s debut, originally published in 1934, goes far to bear out the wisdom of the guest who complains, “I hate...

WEEKEND AT THRACKLEY

A World War I veteran with no job and no prospects is invited to a tony Surrey housewarming by a man who claims to be the best friend of his late father. If this sounds too good to be true, it is, in spades.

Shortly after arriving at Thrackley together with Freddie Usher, his equally idle but much wealthier chum, Jim Henderson realizes he has an unusual distinction among the half-dozen weekend guests. Marilyn Brampton writes grim sex novels; her husband, Henry, is a painter of some note; Catherine Lady Stone is a pillar of useless philanthropic organizations; the one-named Raoul is a featured dancer in the West End production Soft Sugar; and Freddie is the languid possessor of some first-class diamonds. All the other guests invited by Edwin Carson, an accomplished gemologist who talks of nothing but his passion, are awash in precious stones; only Jim is stone broke. So why has Jim, who can’t remember ever seeing Carson before in his life, been invited to round out the party—unless Freddie is right and Carson’s goal is to find an unemployed husband for Mary, his attractive daughter? After pages and pages of upper-class blather over breakfast and bridge, a tête-à-tête in which Carson casually mentions where he and Jim’s father first met strikes a false note Jim squelches but doesn’t have the wit to pick up on, and it’s not until he recognizes one of Carson’s servants as someone he’s seen before that the country-house trappings fall away and Melville (Quick Curtain, 2017, etc.) switches abruptly to florid, and considerably less convincing, melodrama.

Even so, Melville’s debut, originally published in 1934, goes far to bear out the wisdom of the guest who complains, “I hate these harmless, potty people. They’re always up to something.”

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4642-0971-0

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Poisoned Pen

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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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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A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure—Lawhon’s best book to date.

CODE NAME HÉLÈNE

A historical novel explores the intersection of love and war in the life of Australian-born World War II heroine Nancy Grace Augusta Wake.

Lawhon’s (I Was Anastasia, 2018, etc.) carefully researched, lively historical novels tend to be founded on a strategic chronological gambit, whether it’s the suspenseful countdown to the landing of the Hindenberg or the tale of a Romanov princess told backward and forward at once. In her fourth novel, she splits the story of the amazing Nancy Wake, woman of many aliases, into two interwoven strands, both told in first-person present. One begins on Feb. 29th, 1944, when Wake, code-named Hélène by the British Special Operations Executive, parachutes into Vichy-controlled France to aid the troops of the Resistance, working with comrades “Hubert” and “Denden”—two of many vividly drawn supporting characters. “I wake just before dawn with a full bladder and the uncomfortable realization that I am surrounded on all sides by two hundred sex-starved Frenchmen,” she says. The second strand starts eight years earlier in Paris, where Wake is launching a career as a freelance journalist, covering early stories of the Nazi rise and learning to drink with the hardcore journos, her purse-pooch Picon in her lap. Though she claims the dog “will be the great love of [her] life,” she is about to meet the hunky Marseille-based industrialist Henri Fiocca, whose dashing courtship involves French 75 cocktails, unexpected appearances, and a drawn-out seduction. As always when going into battle, even the ones with guns and grenades, Nancy says “I wear my favorite armor…red lipstick.” Both strands offer plenty of fireworks and heroism as they converge to explain all. The author begs forgiveness in an informative afterword for all the drinking and swearing. Hey! No apologies necessary!

A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure—Lawhon’s best book to date.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54468-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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