A fun, frightening mystery with strong horror elements.

SHAULA

Two agents for a shadowy organization find themselves in a remote village in this suspense novel.

Ben is an agent of the Mycelia Sterilia Society, an organization so secretive even he rarely understands the purpose of his work. On his current mission, he’s been partnered with a more experienced operative known by a colorful assortment of pseudonyms—though Ben chooses to just call him Grim. They have been tasked with transporting a mysterious package the size and shape of a cooler to the failing lakeside town of Eidercrest—but Ben’s real mission is to keep an eye on Grim and report back any unusual behavior. The package is to be delivered to Radney Atwood, a “specialist” who lives in a lonely cabin on the lake. Ben and Grim make their delivery, but when it becomes clear that Atwood has been in contact with other parties, the organization orders the two operatives to remain in town and keep an eye on him. Eidercrest offers plenty of secrets to keep Ben’s mind busy, from the strange religious commune that has recently taken up residence in some of the abandoned properties to the supposed monster that Grim believes to be the topic of Atwood’s research. It all turns out to be much more complicated—and dangerous—than Ben bargained for, particularly when he and Grim run afoul of Thane, the commune’s leader, who has taken an interest in Atwood’s work. As friction between the two agents festers, Ben decides to take some initiative and infiltrate the commune on his own, which works well—until it doesn’t. He must keep his wits about him if he’s to solve the riddles of Grim, Atwood, Thane, and the very organization that employs him—or simply to survive the mission at all.

In this sequel, Kherbash’s prose is sparse and spooky, slowly bringing the tension to a boil: “Things grew quiet, and all Ben could hear” as he raised “his head was water gently lapping the wooden raft. Even the crowd lining the shore could not be heard. In the eerie stillness, and in his temporary blind state, the odor of slimy water was all he could perceive.” The author withholds information in a way that maximizes the suspense, leaving readers to piece together just what sort of world this is and who within it can be trusted. The characters are perhaps a bit more transparent than they should be—rarely does anyone do anything that is truly surprising. Kherbash offers readers chapters from Grim’s point of view, which has the unfortunate effect of demystifying the man. That said, Ben’s attempts to unpack all that surrounds him are a suitable engine for the plot, and the evocative setting and slightly Lovecraft-ian atmosphere add to the experience. The result is a highly compelling mix of horror and mystery that will keep the audience engaged even if the ultimate reveals are not quite as big (or as satisfying) as those that the author cultivates in readers’ imaginations.

A fun, frightening mystery with strong horror elements.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-7338854-5-4

Page Count: 306

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2021

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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 muted yet thrilling multilayered mystery enriched by keen psychological and emotional insight.

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WHEN THE STARS GO DARK

A San Francisco homicide detective traumatized by personal tragedy and the many horrors she's encountered returns to Mendocino, once her childhood sanctuary, only to be drawn into the case of a missing girl and the unresolved mysteries of her own past.

“For as long as I could remember, I’d had reasons to disappear,” Anna Hart muses. “I was an expert at making myself invisible.” Orphaned at 8 and reared in a series of foster homes, this police detective has an unwavering commitment to the cases of missing and murdered children and an uncanny “radar for victims.” Then her own family is shattered by a death she might have prevented. Anna flees to Mendocino, where a foster family once provided not only love, but also survival lessons and where Anna agrees to help a local sheriff—also a childhood friend—as he investigates the case of a teenage girl who seems to have been abducted. But the disappearance of Cameron Curtis recalls for Anna a more distant Mendocino mystery: the vanishing of a childhood friend of hers in 1972. And when two more girls are abducted shortly after Cameron—one of them the real-life Polly Klaas—the stage seems set for a predictable serial killer hunt. But McLain largely avoids that well-trodden path to craft instead a psychological thriller that deftly evokes both the entrancing landscape of the Mendocino hills and the rough terrain of shattered lives. “No one can save anyone,” the haunted Anna laments at the outset, but the novel’s convincing outcome, while grimly realistic, permits her to think otherwise. Most memorable of all are the girls, past and present, who emerge here not as convenient victims but as vulnerable, believable characters.

A muted yet thrilling multilayered mystery enriched by keen psychological and emotional insight.

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-23789-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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