MIDNIGHT IN MALAMULELE

In Bartos’ mystery debut, an American teacher staying at a South African convent uses her skills as a former crime reporter to solve the murder of a nun.
Annabelle Chase, when not teaching crime reporting in Denver, spends her summers in Malamulele, at a convent where her late aunt was a nun. The normally tranquil convent is thrown into disarray when Sister Valaria is found murdered, her head nearly severed. Annabelle’s pal, Sister Bridget, is a quick suspect; she’d had an argument with Valaria not long ago, culminating with a threat from Bridget. But Annabelle soon realizes that Bridget may have been the intended target, especially after someone tries to grab Bridget and the two friends share an unwelcome encounter with a cobra in Annabelle’s car. Annabelle investigates Valaria’s murder with handsome Detective Baloyi, and a series of ritual killings, similar to ones from a couple years prior, may have something to do with recent events. The novel establishes itself as a murder mystery right away, opening with a scream in the night. The story’s winsome amateur-sleuth protagonist is in perpetual interrogation mode; she asks Bridget, her closest chum at the convent, rather bluntly, “Did you kill Sister Valaria?” Even being kidnapped doesn’t stop Annabelle from drilling her captor(s) with questions. There are a number of genuinely unsettling moments, like a figure moving in a dark courtyard at the convent or simple accounts of the ritual murders. But the story also uses a subtle humor; e.g., Annabelle notes that nun Bridget’s not “in the habit of breaking her word.” The relationship and eventual intimacy between Annabelle and Baloyi is predictable, but the romance and ongoing murder case are well-balanced. Though it’s a treat to watch the mystery unravel and Annabelle work her way through the pieces, the revelations do rely a little too heavily on coincidence, particularly concerning character relations. This, however, doesn’t detract from Bartos’ bright depictions of South Africa’s skies.
Appealing characters and settings enhance this unnerving murder mystery.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-1502945044

Page Count: 300

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2014

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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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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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