A smart, atmospheric, and entertaining read but not for the Jung and easily Freudened.

THE DEVIL ASPECT

In 1935 Prague, vicious murders are linked to a medieval castle housing an insane asylum outside the city in this well-crafted gothic crime tale.

Psychiatrist Viktor Kosárek tests his theory about the evil in humans on the six inmates—the “most notorious cases in Central Europe”—of the Hrad Orl? Asylum for the Criminally Insane. Prague Police Kapitán Lukáš Smolák, the vegetarian son of a butcher, hopes a glass bead at the latest gory crime scene will help identify the serial killer Leather Apron. As these two storylines converge, Russell (The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid, 2016, etc.), a Scottish author making his U.S. publishing debut, plants tantalizing parallels. Take the bead: One inmate’s husband (whom she cooked and fed to his sister) sold glass beads like the one Lukáš found. The Kapitán heads to the asylum to consult one of the so-called Devil’s Six, who is a glass expert and earlier mentions beads known as the Tears of Perun from Slavic mythology, part of a rich vein of lore and legend that Russell weaves into the narrative. The asylum cases have “odd commonalities,” particularly a demonic figure who abets or is blamed for the violence. Plausible perps abound. Lukáš dreams of helping his father slaughter one of Leather Apron’s victims. Lukáš’ medical examiner is the twin of one of the six nasties. The head of the asylum mysteriously disappears into his office for days. In the background but never forgotten is the rising political threat from Germany, the “Madness of the Many.” A seasoned writer, Russell keeps the police case moving at a good clip, more so than the clinical narrative and its unavoidable repetitions. Each has nice surprises but nothing to match the ending, which offers more twists than a Chubby Checker album.

A smart, atmospheric, and entertaining read but not for the Jung and easily Freudened.

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54436-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

THE WINTER GUEST

An 18-year-old Polish girl falls in love, swoons over a first kiss, dreams of marriage—and, oh yes, we are in the middle of the Holocaust.

Jenoff (The Ambassador’s Daughter, 2013, etc.) weaves a tale of fevered teenage love in a time of horrors in the early 1940s, as the Nazis invade Poland and herd Jews into ghettos and concentration camps. A prologue set in 2013, narrated by a resident of the Westchester Senior Center, provides an intriguing setup. A woman and a policeman visit the resident and ask if she came from a small Polish village. Their purpose is unclear until they mention bones recently found there: “And we think you might know something about them.” The book proceeds in the third person, told from the points of view mostly of teenage Helena, who comes upon an injured young Jewish-American soldier, and sometimes of her twin, Ruth, who is not as adventurous as Helena but is very competitive with her. Their father is dead, their mother is dying in a hospital, and they are raising their three younger siblings amid danger and hardship. The romance between Helena and Sam, the soldier, is often conveyed in overheated language that doesn’t sit well with the era’s tragic events: “There had been an intensity to his embrace that said he was barely able to contain himself, that he also wanted more.” Jenoff, clearly on the side of tolerance, slips in a simplified historical framework for the uninformed. But she also feeds stereotypes, having Helena note that Sam has “a slight arch to his nose” and a dark complexion that “would make him suspect as a Jew immediately.” Clichés also pop up during the increasingly complex plot: “But even if they stood in place, the world around them would not.”

Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1596-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be...

BADLANDS

Box takes another break from his highly successful Joe Pickett series (Stone Cold, 2014, etc.) for a stand-alone about a police detective, a developmentally delayed boy, and a package everyone in North Dakota wants to grab.

Cassandra Dewell can’t leave Montana’s Lewis and Clark County fast enough for her new job as chief investigator for Jon Kirkbride, sheriff of Bakken County. She leaves behind no memories worth keeping: her husband is dead, her boss has made no bones about disliking her, and she’s looking forward to new responsibilities and the higher salary underwritten by North Dakota’s sudden oil boom. But Bakken County has its own issues. For one thing, it’s cold—a whole lot colder than the coldest weather Cassie’s ever imagined. For another, the job she turns out to have been hired for—leading an investigation her new boss doesn’t feel he can entrust to his own force—makes her queasy. The biggest problem, though, is one she doesn’t know about until it slaps her in the face. A fatal car accident that was anything but accidental has jarred loose a stash of methamphetamines and cash that’s become the center of a battle between the Sons of Freedom, Bakken County’s traditional drug sellers, and MS-13, the Salvadorian upstarts who are muscling in on their territory. It’s a setup that leaves scant room for law enforcement officers or for Kyle Westergaard, the 12-year-old paperboy damaged since birth by fetal alcohol syndrome, who’s walked away from the wreck with a prize all too many people would kill for.

A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be welcome to return and tie up the gaping loose end Box leaves. The unrelenting cold makes this the perfect beach read.

Pub Date: July 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-58321-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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