Engaging characters, one already dead, highlight this loving tribute to the classic detective story.


Haunting Investigation


In Yarbro’s (Sustenance: A Saint-Germain Novel, 2014, etc.) mystery/thriller, a journalist in 1924 investigates a possible murder with help from the ghost who’s haunting her.

With the death of accountant Madison Moncrief, Philadelphia Clarion reporter Poppy Thornton may have found her way from the society page to the front page. Sure, it looks like Madison hanged himself, but Poppy knows it was murder because Chesterton Holte, the ghost of a man who died eight years ago, told her. Poppy’s investigation leads to her connecting two additional murders: the alleged suicide of James Poindexter, who worked at the same firm as Moncrief, and the irrefutable homicide of antiques dealer Percy Knott. But when Poppy gets too close to the truth, she may need more than just a helping hand from Holte. There’s not much mystery in Yarbro’s novel; Poppy uncovers some shadiness among potential suspects but doesn’t make much headway, and Holte learns little from the ghosts of the murder vics, who can’t even remember their killer(s). Yarbro, however, delivers two intriguing lead characters. Holte, for one, has chosen to haunt Poppy because he blames himself for her father’s murder, which happened mere hours before Holte’s own during the Great War (about which the narrative doesn’t offer too many details). Holte is largely a traditional ghost—“semi-visible” in front of Poppy and prone to flickering lights—who often inadvertently scares the journalist with his sudden appearances. Poppy, for her part, is delightfully curious (befitting her profession of choice) yet hilariously oblivious to Inspector Loring’s blatant flirting, even if Holte is quick to point it out. Nevertheless, Yarbro’s greatest triumph is the old-school prose. Her novel reads as if it were genuinely authored in the 1920s: “ ’phone” is repeatedly written as such, as it would be if the shorthand were still around, and Poppy’s go-to exclamation is “Ye gods!” The final act is decidedly more intense—Poppy may become someone’s target—but the ending unfortunately lacks resolution, so readers hoping for a nice wrap-up to the mystery will likely be disappointed.

Engaging characters, one already dead, highlight this loving tribute to the classic detective story.

Pub Date: Dec. 31, 2015


Page Count: -

Publisher: Cleveland Writers Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2015

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.


Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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