Truly old-school detective fiction that rises above mere pastiche.

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An investigator goes out on a limb when a prominent developer hires him to check out her family tree in Mason’s debut mystery.

Crime fiction fans are sure to like a book that begins with the punchy sentence, “The kid had it coming,” and a scene that follows shortly afterward in which ethically compromised, clarinet-playing ex-cop Marcus Heaton is advised to meet with one of the city’s boldface personages, who, he’s told, has “a little project you’d be perfect for.” Marcus is aware of the gulf between him and his client. As a real estate developer, Eleanor Hausman transforms neighborhoods; as a former officer with the New York City Police Department, Marcus dirtied his hands with acts of corruption that “you wouldn’t put in your report.” As another character comments, “You don’t just take a shower and wash that shit off!” But he’s trying; for starters, he did head-butt and punch out a commanding officer who wanted him to plant drugs. His work for a law firm is a bit more aboveboard, but he hasn’t lost his knack for working in the margins, just outside “the boundaries of the law.” It seems a bit out of character, then, that Eleanor asks him to simply find out more about her family history. Indeed, Marcus doesn’t buy it: “I see pretty much two reasons why a person like you hires a person like me,” he tells her. “There’s something you want to find out, or there’s something you don’t want other people to find out. General curiosity? Doesn’t make the list.” The fact that she’s adopted is only the first of increasingly convoluted developments that make for a brisk page-turner—and one that has a high body count. Mason, a lawyer and former federal prosecutor, writes with authority and a distinctive voice; he clearly knows where all the bodies are buried in this fictional world, and his hard-boiled patois lands as solidly as Marcus’ punches. Early on, the author leans a little too heavily on “If you think the name sounds familiar”–type exposition, but that’s a relatively minor quibble in an otherwise solid tale.

Truly old-school detective fiction that rises above mere pastiche.

Pub Date: March 27, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-937484-98-9

Page Count: 370

Publisher: Amika Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021


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


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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