FATHER OF LIES

Storywriter Evenson (Altmann’s Tongue, 1994) makes his novel debut with a timely, readable, but debilitatingly stiff exploration of hypocrisy and religious zeal. Imagine a conservative religious group’subscribing explicitly to —family values,— of course’so rigorously zealous that it calls itself the Corporation of the Blood of the Lamb and even accepts the nickname of —Bloodites.— And imagine there being in this group a dedicated, widely respected, unquestionably stolid and upright family man who serves as a —provost,— or kind of priest, thus having great moral and spiritual responsibilities not only to his own wife and four children, but to all the families—and children—of the Bloodite congregation. And then imagine that this stolid, upright, trustworthy man is in reality nutty as a fruitcake, a raging psycho who half-deludes even himself into believing that he isn—t actually a child-rapist and child- murderer who invariably gets away with his ugly crimes by drawing conveniently on own indelible appearance of sanctity and reputation for goodness—after all, his logic goes, he wouldn—t be a provost if he weren—t good, would he? Then imagine dreams beginning to disrupt the sleep of this man—Eldon Fochs’so violently that his wife insists he go for counseling. And imagine that his psychiatrist, bit by bit, begins to uncover the truth—only to find himself then being —told— by authorities of the Corporation to cover it up and desist, since after all, the reputation of the church must be preserved. —It’s a dirty game they play,— thinks the psychiatrist, the most rounded and alluring figure in the book but one who, alas, disappears too soon, leaving us in the company of the vile church superiors and the repugnant Fochs himself, who remains creaky and automaton-like even while being visited—as in, say, Dostoevsky—by vicious doubles representing his own mind. An investigation of the perverse that, however impassioned in aim or zealous in its own message, remains distractingly cartoon-like and thin.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 1-56858-116-5

Page Count: 197

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1998

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The perfect gift for well-read mystery mavens who complain that they don’t write them like they used to.

EIGHT PERFECT MURDERS

A ghoulish killer brings a Boston bookseller’s list of perfect fictional murders to life—that is, to repeated, emphatic death.

The Red House Mystery, Malice Aforethought, The A.B.C. Murders, Double Indemnity, Strangers on a Train, The Drowner, Deathtrap, The Secret History: They may not be the best mysteries, reflects Malcolm Kershaw, but they feature the most undetectable murders, as he wrote on a little-read blog post when he was first hired at Old Devils Bookstore. Now that he owns the store with mostly silent partner Brian Murray, a semifamous mystery writer, that post has come back to haunt him. FBI agent Gwen Mulvey has observed at least three unsolved murders, maybe more, that seem to take their cues from the stories on Mal’s list. What does he think about possible links among them? she wonders. The most interesting thing he thinks is something he’s not going to share with her: He’s hiding a secret that would tie him even more closely to that list than she imagines. And while Mal is fretting about what he can do to help stop the violence without tipping his own hand, the killer, clearly untrammeled by any such scruples, continues down the list of fictional blueprints for perfect murders. Swanson (Before She Knew Him, 2019, etc.) jumps the shark early from genre thrills to metafictional puzzles, but despite a triple helping of cleverness that might seem like a fatal overdose, the pleasures of following, and trying to anticipate, a narrator who’s constantly second- and third-guessing himself and everyone around him are authentic and intense. If the final revelations are anticlimactic, that’s only because you wish the mounting complications, like a magician’s showiest routine, could go on forever.

The perfect gift for well-read mystery mavens who complain that they don’t write them like they used to.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-283820-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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