The makings of a fine novel, obscured by poor pacing and plotting.

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DEEP CREEK

Chinese gold miners are massacred in the Wild West, and the pursuit of their killers proves arduous.

Writing under a joint pseudonym, nonfiction authors Will Howarth and Anne Matthews base their first novel on “actual events” (per their epigraph). The miners’ bodies, horribly mutilated, are carried down the Snake River to Lewiston, Idaho Territory, in June 1887. Joe Vincent, the 56-year-old county judge, is asked to investigate, a tough assignment because feeling against Chinese immigrants is running strong. But Joe is a decent guy, and the case assumes new urgency when Lee Loi offers him $1,500 to pursue it. The young, Westernized Chinese man is an emissary of the Sam Yup, the powerful San Francisco company that had bankrolled the miners’ expedition. Joe and Lee venture upriver with mysterious, exotic tracker Grace Sundown, the child of a French father and a Nimipu (Nez Perce) mother. They quickly identify the killers: seven white horse rustlers living in a cabin near the mining operation, led by a criminal psychopath named Blue Evans. The versatile Joe goes undercover to gather evidence and barely escapes with his life. This much is straightforward, but the story has more eddies and cross-currents than the Snake. What is the connection between the Sam Yup and John Vollmer, the county’s biggest landowner? Between Vollmer and Evans? What intrigue is Joe’s estranged wife Libby up to, and what has transpired between Joe and Grace? There are exciting moments for the odd trio of investigators as they elude Evans and the angry spirits of several dozen dead miners, but then the narrative sags disastrously with an account of the 1877 war against the Nez Perce, in which Joe participated. Two-thirds of the way through, we’re still getting his back story. The authors’ clipped prose works well for the action passages, much less so for the complex, see-sawing relationship between Joe and Grace.

The makings of a fine novel, obscured by poor pacing and plotting.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-547-23748-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2009

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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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Creepy, violent, and propulsive; a standout gothic mystery.

THINGS IN JARS

Lady detective Bridie Devine searches for a missing child and finds much more than she bargained for.

Bridie Devine is no stranger to the seedy underworld of Victorian London. An accomplished detective with medical training, she sometimes helps the police by examining bodies to determine the cause of death. Bridie recently failed to find a lost child, and when she’s approached about another missing child, the daughter of Sir Edmund Berwick, she isn’t enthusiastic about taking on the case. But Christabel Berwick is no ordinary child. Sir Edmund has hidden Christabel away her whole life and wants Bridie to believe this is an ordinary kidnapping. Bridie does a little digging and learns that Christabel isn’t his daughter so much as his prized specimen. Sir Edmund believes Christabel is a “merrow,” a darker and less romanticized version of a mermaid. Bridie is skeptical, but there are reports of Christabel’s sharp teeth, color-changing eyes, and ability to drown people on dry land. Given that Bridie’s new companion is a ghost who refuses to tell her why he’s haunting her, Bridie might want to open her mind a bit. There’s a lot going on in this singular novel, and none of it pretty. Bridie’s London is soaked with mud and blood, and her past is nightmarish at best. Kidd (Mr. Flood’s Last Resort, 2018, etc.) is an expert at setting a supernatural mood perfect for ghosts and merrows, but her human villains make them seem mundane by comparison. With so much detail and so many clever, Dickensian characters, readers might petition Kidd to give Bridie her own series.

Creepy, violent, and propulsive; a standout gothic mystery.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-2128-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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