Excessive formality and slippery perspectives undermine this promising neo-Gothic novel.


Sydney's Skeletons

In Grace’s ambitious debut novel, secrets and generations-old lies tangle with a family’s 20th-century life in Jamaica.

Opening in 1907, this atmospheric narrative follows the life and death of Emma Ingram, a “proper English lady” living in Kingston, Jamaica, trapped in a violent marriage to Harry Ingram, an Indian immigrant. After Harry’s death, Emma’s life takes a different direction as she blazes a new life as a feminist leader with her lover (and Harry’s cousin) Opal. In succeeding generations, Emma and Opal’s descendants struggle with interpersonal difficulties and the specter of their ancestral home, as well as the specter of Emma herself, who appears to her granddaughter Sydney and serves as her constant companion. However, while spectral, Emma isn’t all-knowing, and the Ingram family line isn’t safe from either its forgotten history or the mysterious stranger lurking at the edges of their lives. The central narrative wouldn’t be out of place in a traditional Gothic novel, and Grace impressively evokes the teeming, humid atmosphere of Jamaica, successfully setting the stage for an outsized tale of romance and secrets. However, despite the adroit juggling of multiple subplots over decades, the novel struggles to cohere, mostly due to its point of view and word choices. The narrative voice slides in and out of omniscient third-person, at times seemingly addressing the audience directly, at other times taking an almost clinical remove from the action. Though summoning a Gothic tone, Grace sometimes writes in a voice that is oblique and erudite, blunting the emotional impact of her characters’ words and actions in formal diction that undermines the plot: “Inside were five Asian women dressed in splendid silk furisode kimonos of bright and elegant designs, sitting seiza-style, their palms pressed together, focused on an illuminated piece of paper hung inside a wooden box.” On occasion, the narrative cuts to the heart of a scene with concision and style, which makes its subsequent return to a self-consciously florid style all the more disappointing.

Excessive formality and slippery perspectives undermine this promising neo-Gothic novel.

Pub Date: July 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5122-2265-4

Page Count: 264

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2015

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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. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An appealing new heroine, a fast-moving plot, and a memorably nightmarish family make this one of Box’s best.

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The creator of Wyoming Fish and Game Warden Joe Pickett (Wolf Pack, 2019, etc.) launches a new series starring a female private eye who messes with a powerful family and makes everyone involved rue the day.

Cassie Dewell’s been taking a monthly retainer from Bozeman attorney Rachel Mitchell for investigations of one sort and another, but she really doesn’t want to look into the case of Rachel’s newest client. That’s partly because Blake Kleinsasser, the fourth-generation firstborn of a well-established ranching family who moved to New York and made his own bundle before returning back home, comes across as a repellent jerk and partly because all the evidence indicates that he raped Franny Porché, his 15-year-old niece. And there’s plenty of evidence, from a rape kit showing his DNA to a lengthy, plausible statement from Franny. But Cassie owes Rachel, and Rachel tells her she doesn’t have to dig up exculpatory evidence, just follow the trail where it leads so that she can close off every other possibility. So Cassie agrees even though there’s an even more compelling reason not to: The Kleinsassers—Horst II and Margaret and their three other children, John Wayne, Rand, and Cheyenne, Franny’s thrice-divorced mother—are not only toxic, but viperishly dangerous to Blake and now Cassie. Everyone in Lochsa County, from Sheriff Ben Wagy on down, is in their pockets, and everyone Cassie talks to, from the Kleinsassers to the local law, finds new ways to make her life miserable. But Cassie, an ex-cop single mother, isn’t one to back down, especially since she wonders why anyone would take all the trouble to stop an investigation of a case that was as rock-solid as this one’s supposed to be.

An appealing new heroine, a fast-moving plot, and a memorably nightmarish family make this one of Box’s best.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-05105-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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