Not quite The Name of the Rose, to which comparison is inevitable, but most entertaining and engrossing nevertheless.

SCHOLARIUM

The combative world of 15th-century scholarship is a hotbed of murder and intrigue in this vivid German debut, the work of a former student of medieval philosophy.

Gross’s lavish plot turns on the killing of Frederico Cassall, a Master of Liberal Arts at the recently founded University of Cologne. The despotic Cassall is known to have physically abused his young wife Sophie, an educated woman who had taken the impermissible liberty of reading her husband’s books. But Sophie is one of several suspects, along with wealthy student Domitian von Semper, his mild-mannered friend Laurien Thibold, and arrogant young Master Siger Lombardi, a “godless” nominalist mightily disapproved of by his colleagues, who are disciples of Thomas Aquinas and believers in the reality of ideal forms. Gross moves skillfully among the viewpoints of these and other characters, most notably Marius De Swerthe, the university’s stern, dwarflike Prior, and veteran Master Konrad Steiner, who undertakes to unmask Cassall’s murderer by solving the riddle contained in a mocking message left with the body. Another murder, licentious rituals performed by a heretical religious sect devoted to the “sacrum sexualae,” and Sophie’s impersonation of a male student propel Gross’s narrative along (though we never really believe Sophie’s disguise could have escaped detection). In an unusual double climax, the murderer’s dabblings in forbidden knowledge precipitate his undoing, and Sophie’s attempt to enter a sphere reserved exclusively for men leads to her trial for sorcery. Scholarium is a little too long, and suffers from redundancy (e.g., Gross hits us over the head with the relevance of the scholastic dispute between the realist acceptance of ideality and the nominalist belief that “objects alone possessed reality”). But we keep turning the pages, and they don’t disappoint.

Not quite The Name of the Rose, to which comparison is inevitable, but most entertaining and engrossing nevertheless.

Pub Date: June 30, 2004

ISBN: 1-59264-056-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Toby Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2004

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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