A shady and literate thriller that oozes down-and-out ambience—and featuring, in the tradition of the best noir, a damaged...

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MORTAL COIL

McGowan’s second noir (after Stag Hunt, 2004), set largely in London’s seedier precincts and featuring colorful hoods, record-industry sharks, Nietzsche-quoting enforcers and cross-dressing power bassists, is fast-paced, brutal and surprisingly meditative.

To supplement his meager wages as a night-school academic, Matthew Moriarty takes a job vetting the would-be clientele at a high-end bar, deciding who will get past the velvet ropes—but trouble erupts when this philosopher-king of the bouncers rebuffs a local mobster named Bernie Mueller. Bad idea. Soon after, Mueller and two thugs drag Moriarty into an alleyway, where they beat him savagely, humiliate him, mutilate his ear. Months later, a chastened and raging Moriarty, now an unemployed semi-cripple just emerging from a painkiller addiction, takes on the well-paid task of finding his boyhood friend Ju, a well-regarded session musician who’s been putting the final touches on the magnum opus that might at last boost him to stardom. Ju, who served as a silent benefactor to Moriarty during his convalescence, has disappeared, and his record company wants him found and returned to the fold. Though the novel’s ending hits a false note, offering a string of convenient coincidences, McGowan constructs a suspenseful plot and writes barbed, forceful dialogue, and his account of mean-streets London and Leeds, especially of pubs and housing projects, is powerfully grim. Best of all is his portrayal of Moriarty, a man both thoughtful and vengeful, cunning and naïve, cynical and guilt-ridden. McGowan especially excels in the scenes in which Moriarty, hobbling along with the help of a cane that doubles as a weapon, roams the streets and contemplates the sewage-choked rivulets of his boyhood hometown, Leeds, as he tries to unravel the mystery of Ju’s vanishing and sorts through bittersweet memories of his own.

A shady and literate thriller that oozes down-and-out ambience—and featuring, in the tradition of the best noir, a damaged and ambivalent knight errant.

Pub Date: March 15, 2007

ISBN: 0-340-83049-2

Page Count: 326

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton/Trafalgar

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2007

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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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Creepy, violent, and propulsive; a standout gothic mystery.

THINGS IN JARS

Lady detective Bridie Devine searches for a missing child and finds much more than she bargained for.

Bridie Devine is no stranger to the seedy underworld of Victorian London. An accomplished detective with medical training, she sometimes helps the police by examining bodies to determine the cause of death. Bridie recently failed to find a lost child, and when she’s approached about another missing child, the daughter of Sir Edmund Berwick, she isn’t enthusiastic about taking on the case. But Christabel Berwick is no ordinary child. Sir Edmund has hidden Christabel away her whole life and wants Bridie to believe this is an ordinary kidnapping. Bridie does a little digging and learns that Christabel isn’t his daughter so much as his prized specimen. Sir Edmund believes Christabel is a “merrow,” a darker and less romanticized version of a mermaid. Bridie is skeptical, but there are reports of Christabel’s sharp teeth, color-changing eyes, and ability to drown people on dry land. Given that Bridie’s new companion is a ghost who refuses to tell her why he’s haunting her, Bridie might want to open her mind a bit. There’s a lot going on in this singular novel, and none of it pretty. Bridie’s London is soaked with mud and blood, and her past is nightmarish at best. Kidd (Mr. Flood’s Last Resort, 2018, etc.) is an expert at setting a supernatural mood perfect for ghosts and merrows, but her human villains make them seem mundane by comparison. With so much detail and so many clever, Dickensian characters, readers might petition Kidd to give Bridie her own series.

Creepy, violent, and propulsive; a standout gothic mystery.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-2128-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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