A hyperextended short story bulked up with flashbacks, petty social slights, and holiday cheer.

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A CHRISTMAS GATHERING

Back from their adventures in Jerusalem (A Christmas Message, 2016), Lord Victor Narraway and his wife, Lady Vespasia, trudge dutifully to an obligatory holiday party in an English country house whose promised tedium is shattered by a violent attack.

On the face of it, the four couples Max Cavendish and his wife, Lady Amelia, have invited for Christmas have nothing in common. Narraway, of course, is former head of Special Branch, an intelligence service with which Vespasia has also been repeatedly involved. Ex–military man Rafe Allenby is an explorer Vespasia’s encountered on several foreign excursions that his wife, Rosalind, decided to skip. Dorian Brent and his wife, Georgiana, are moneyed do-nothings. Art restorer James Watson-Watt and his wife, Iris, are so much younger than the others that they seem to have wandered over from a different party. When Iris is attacked and left for dead sometime past midnight at the orangery of Cavendish Hall, a pile Lady Amelia inherited from her branch of the family, the general reactions are bewilderment and shock. But not Narraway’s. He’s come to the gathering specifically to collect some top-secret information about German submarines from Iris, who’s working for Special Branch. Already haunted by his failure to protect another such courier from getting murdered at a house party in Normandy over 20 years ago, he can’t help feeling that history is repeating itself, casting him once more as its weakest link. As James hovers over his unconscious wife’s bedside and the assembled worthies soldier on without either notifying the police or disbanding (“For such an unfortunate event, one does not abandon one’s friends,” observes Vespasia), only one thing is certain: The mystery will be solved and the gathering uplifted just in time for Christmas.

A hyperextended short story bulked up with flashbacks, petty social slights, and holiday cheer.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-62101-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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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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