The richly imagined setting will appeal to Tuscan sun worshippers, but the mystery suffers from lack of a credible murder...

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THE SONNET LOVER

A literature professor unveils the grim secret of a Tuscan villa in Goodman’s florid fifth (The Ghost Orchid, 2006, etc.).

Rose Asher, a student in Hudson College’s summer program at villa La Civetta, fell in love with her professor, Bruno Brunelli. Much to her disillusionment, Bruno returned to his pregnant wife. Twenty years later, Rose, now teaching at Hudson, is recruited by Leo, a Hollywood producer, to consult on a movie to be shot on location at La Civetta about Ginevra de Laura, a 16th-century poetess rumored to have been Shakespeare’s Dark Lady. The screenwriter, Robin, falls to his death from a balcony at a college cocktail party. Or was he pushed? Eyewitnesses, including Rose’s current flame Mark (Hudson’s president) and colleague Gene, insist Robin committed suicide when Bruno’s son, exchange student Orlando, enraged by Robin’s theft of his script idea, lunged at him. What exactly plagiarism-prone Robin stole fluctuates throughout: Could it be Ginevra’s long lost poems? Or a letter validating Bruno’s hereditary claim to La Civetta, which threatens Hudson’s hopes of inheriting the villa from absinthe aficionado Cyril Graham? When the Hudson throng reconvenes at La Civetta, Bruno rekindles Rose’s passion, but intrigue soon trumps romance. Inexplicably fearing that bad publicity might hurt the film project, Leo bribes Gene, his shopaholic pillhead wife Mara and Mark to keep the balcony incident quiet. Meanwhile, Rose studies the villa’s pietro dure mosaic floors and their free-form motif of rose petals sprinkled in a path leading from the bridal suite. In the moonlight, these petals resemble drops of blood, symbolizing the defloration of Ginevra by the lord of La Civetta, who decorated the bridal suite with frescos illustrating the wages of thwarted love, including stabbing, disemboweling and…nevermind. Mara trips fatally over ruined steps in the rose garden, and acting student Zoe swallows poison. At the risk of alienating Bruno, Rose must stop Orlando.

The richly imagined setting will appeal to Tuscan sun worshippers, but the mystery suffers from lack of a credible murder motive.

Pub Date: June 12, 2007

ISBN: 0-345-47957-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2007

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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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