Quirke remains a compelling mystery, perhaps to himself most of all, but initiates might better read these novels in order...

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VENGEANCE

From the Quirke series , Vol. 5

Another breezy read in the mystery series by a Dublin novelist whose more literary work is often considered “difficult.”

The prolific alter ego of the masterful, Booker Prize-winning novelist John Banville, Black takes it easy on himself and his readers with this fifth volume in a mystery series featuring the inscrutable Quirke, who is not a detective, but a pathologist and who here is less a protagonist than a supporting character. The plot’s riddle isn’t whodunit, but why. It entangles two families, headed by business partners who are the sons of business partners, though one of the families has long decidedly held the upper hand. Victor Delahaye, the dominant partner, takes a resistant Davy Clancy, son of the resentful secondary partner, out for a day’s sail. While in the middle of the sea, under a scorching sun, Victor proceeds to relate an inscrutable parable to Davy about growing up independent, then commits suicide by shooting himself in the chest, leaving a particularly bloody corpse. In some respects, this is surprisingly similar to the previous novel in the series (A Death in Summer, 2011), which also concerned a mysterious suicide by a financial magnate that leads to Quirke’s involvement with the widow. There really isn’t much action after that fatal first chapter, as Black explores the possible manipulations of a bunch of peculiar and suspicious characters. Did Victor’s womanizing partner (and Davy’s father) play a part in the death? How about his insidiously eerie twin sons (and the seductive girlfriend of one)? His promiscuous and much younger widow? His mentally unbalanced sister? Davy’s mother? Davy? Though the novel makes some fun of mystery novels that arrive at an impossibly neat resolution, moving its characters like chess pieces, the suspense here proceeds to a climax that untangles all loose ends. Along the way, there’s the pleasure of Black’s prose, of the “sudden sweet pang for the lost past, all those possibilities long gone, never to be offered again.”

Quirke remains a compelling mystery, perhaps to himself most of all, but initiates might better read these novels in order rather than starting here.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9439-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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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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