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Robots may not be so different from humans in this fast-paced futuristic mystery.

In a world ruled by robots, a police chief races to solve a murder on a reservation set aside for humans.

Jesse Laughton is chief of police for the newly created SoCar Preserve, a designated area for humans spreading out from Charleston, South Carolina. After a plague almost wiped out humankind, highly sophisticated forms of AI took control. It’s been nine months since the preserve was populated by people, and no one has been murdered. Until now. The body slumped in the alley behind a grocery store is that of Carl Smythe, who turns out to be a cyborg (a human with a robotic arm and leg) and a hacker who developed and sold something called sims. The sims are illegal programs that are the robot equivalent of heroin or hallucinogens—they provide a one-time thrill that can be addictive. The last thing the dedicated Laughton wants on his turf is robot interference with law enforcement, but now it’s inevitable. He’s not at all surprised when his former partner from the Baltimore police department shows up. Kir is a robot so finely designed he’s barely distinguishable from a human, except when he does something like mend a shotgun wound by twisting a few wires in his shoulder back together. Kir is also probably Laughton’s best friend. It turns out he’s not even there about Smythe’s murder, although it may be connected to five robocides he’s investigating back in Baltimore. Winter does his worldbuilding gracefully, weaving the details of this future into the investigation as it builds rather than veering off into long blocks of exposition. He also grounds the story in Laughton’s family life. His wife, Betty, is dedicated to two subversive causes: She helps run a school to educate human children and a fertility clinic to grow the population (“A Baby in Every Belly”). Laughton’s relationship with his 8-year-old daughter, Erica, is a believable bond of loving exasperation. One quality humans and robots still share is prejudice toward each other, and Laughton and Kir must struggle with that to solve the case.

Robots may not be so different from humans in this fast-paced futuristic mystery.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-9788-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Emily Bestler/Atria

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

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. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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This book and its author are cleverer than you and want you to know it.

In this mystery, the narrator constantly adds commentary on how the story is constructed.

In 1929, during the golden age of mysteries, a (real-life) writer named Ronald Knox published the “10 Commandments of Detective Fiction,” 10 rules that mystery writers should obey in order to “play fair.” When faced with his own mystery story, our narrator, an author named Ernest Cunningham who "write[s] books about how to write books," feels like he must follow these rules himself. The story seemingly begins on the night his brother Michael calls to ask him to help bury a body—and shows up with the body and a bag containing $267,000. Fast-forward three years, and Ernie’s family has gathered at a ski resort to celebrate Michael’s release from prison. The family dynamics are, to put it lightly, complicated—and that’s before a man shows up dead in the snow and Michael arrives with a coffin in a truck. When the local cop arrests Michael for the murder, things get even more complicated: There are more deaths; Michael tells a story about a coverup involving their father, who was part of a gang called the Sabers; and Ernie still has (most of) the money and isn’t sure whom to trust or what to do with it. Eventually, Ernie puts all the pieces together and gathers the (remaining) family members and various extras for the great denouement. As the plot develops, it becomes clear that there’s a pretty interesting mystery at the heart of this novel, but Stevenson’s postmodern style has Ernie constantly breaking the fourth wall to explain how the structure of his story meets the criteria for a successful detective story. Some readers are drawn to mysteries because they love the formula and logic—this one’s for them. If you like the slow, sometimes-creepy, sometimes-comforting unspooling of a good mystery, it might not be your cup of tea—though the ending, to be fair, is still something of a surprise.

This book and its author are cleverer than you and want you to know it.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-06-327902-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Mariner Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2022

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