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NEXT TO LAST STAND

Not Johnson's best work but a pleasant composition demonstrating deft brushwork.

Sheriff Walt Longmire investigates a murder associated with a long-lost painting.

When Charley Lee Stillwater, a resident of the Veterans' Home of Wyoming, dies and a shoe box containing $1 million is found among his otherwise modest possessions, Sheriff Longmire, who had known Stillwater for years, is called in. Preliminary questioning of Lee's cronies in the home reveals that he had had shadowy meetings with people who might have an interest in art, and a fragment of a painted canvas among his things reinforces the notion that Lee has somehow been dealing in art. With the help of his Northern Cheyenne friend Henry Standing Bear, Longmire has the fragment analyzed, and he eventually establishes that it is part of a study for Custer's Last Fight by Cassilly Adams, a mural-size painting that was for years an iconic image of the Battle of the Greasy Grass but which was destroyed in a fire in 1946. Traveling with Standing Bear and pursuing, as it were, the ghosts of Custer and Sitting Bull, Longmire explores the complex of invention and fact that looms so large in the American consciousness. The value of the painting, in fact, derives not from its quality as art but from its participation in the creation of the Custer myth. This is good stuff, if a little discursive, and helps redress a historical imbalance. However, the measured tone and leisurely exploration give way to accelerating action and a somewhat fragmented plot. Some characters believe the painting still exists, and one, Count von Lehman, a slightly absurd caricature of art dealers, believes he paid a substantial amount to acquire it. Then von Lehman disappears, apparently murdered, and the niceties of civilized competition drop away. All's revealed in the end, of course. Some of the characters are richly drawn and, in the case of Standing Bear, warmly familiar, and the antics of Lee's Veterans' Home cronies are a sweet tribute to America's better angels, but the villains are disappointing, and while it's more a caper than a gritty tale, mortal crimes are committed, lives are changed or curtailed, and the plotting seems somehow less than the sum of its parts.

Not Johnson's best work but a pleasant composition demonstrating deft brushwork.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-552253-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

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. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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NONE OF THIS IS TRUE

It's hard to read but hard to look away from.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

When two women who share a birthday meet, a journalist becomes the subject of her own true-crime mystery.

On their 45th birthdays, Josie Fair and Alix Summer meet at a pub and discover they were born not only on the same day, but in the same hospital. Alix is a successful journalist, and Josie convinces Alix that her story is worth telling: Josie met her husband when she was 13 and he was 40. “I can see that maybe I was being used, that maybe I was even being groomed?” she confesses to Alix. “But that feeling of being powerful, right at the start, when I was still in control. I miss that sometimes. I really do. And what I’d like, more than anything, is to get it back.” From this premise Alix creates a Netflix series, Hi! I’m Your Birthday Twin! which investigates Josie’s life as she reconciles what happened to her as a teen and seeks a new path. With the story unfinished, the narrative unfolds in the present tense, with prose that jingles like song lyrics: “He turns to see if the girl is behind him, and sees her wishy-washy, wavy-wavy, in double vision through the glass windows of the hotel.” Alix is both intrigued and repulsed by Josie, but she initially gives her the benefit of the doubt. After all, Alix’s husband, Nathan, has a drinking problem, and Alix knows what it’s like to be reluctant to leave a bad situation. But Josie seems more interested in being part of Alix’s seemingly glamorous life than she is in fixing her own, and when three people end up dead and Alix’s life is turned upside down, the evidence points to Josie—and turns the TV series into a murder mystery. Transcripts from Alix’s interviews alternate with the narrative, offering increasingly varied perspectives on Josie’s story as told by her neighbors, friends, and family members. With so many versions of events, the ending shatters, leaving readers to decide whose is the truth.

It's hard to read but hard to look away from.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2023

ISBN: 9781982179007

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2023

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