This historical tour de force reminds readers who come for the mystery that life hasn’t changed for the disenfranchised.

THE HOCUS GIRL

A thief-taker—someone hired to “find what had been stolen and return it for a fee”—and his assistant risk their lives to help friends.

In 1822, Leeds is already crowded with factories staffed by the desperately poor, and the wealthy owners are worried about revolution. Although thief-taker Simon Westow and his wife, Rosie, understand what it’s like to have nothing, they’ve made a good life for themselves, their twin boys, and Simon’s assistant, Jane, who lives in their house. Simon and Rosie know nothing of Jane’s past but recognize her ghostlike abilities and her skill with a knife as valuable assets in solving mysteries (The Hanging Psalm, 2018). Siblings Emily and Davey Ashton often fed and housed Simon when he was a penniless teen. So when Davey, who dreams of equality, is arrested for sedition, Simon will stop at nothing to save him. Ambitious magistrate Thomas Curzon seems to be spying on and arresting people who protest the awful conditions they must endure; his vicious bodyguard, Whittaker, does the dirty work. Busy with well-paid jobs of recovering stolen property from people like Charlotte Winter, a hocus girl who drugs men and steals their valuables, Simon resolves to track down the spy who helps Curzon get people arrested on bogus charges. In this he’s helped by Jane’s uncanny ability to know when she’s being followed. He finally hears about Dodd, a mysterious suspect who’s traveling with a woman. But this intelligence comes too late to stop Whittaker from going on a killing spree simply because he enjoys it. Soon after Jane removes her savings from a box she’d hidden in the woods and brings it to the home of Catherine Shields, a motherly woman who's the only person she loves, she sees Charlotte digging up the empty box. When Catherine, who refuses to reveal the hiding place, is beaten by the thief, Jane cannot fathom how anyone could know her secret. Using every resource at their command, she and Simon work to free Davey and take revenge on the people who are killing to cover up myriad crimes.

This historical tour de force reminds readers who come for the mystery that life hasn’t changed for the disenfranchised.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7278-8935-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Severn House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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