Despite an overly convoluted plot, this is an insightful and affecting look into the lives of those who risk everything to...

INTO THE SUN

How living in Afghanistan profoundly affected a group of friends.

Canadian-American writer Béchard won the 2007 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for his quirky and lyrical debut novel, Vandal Love. He draws upon his extensive experience as a foreign correspondent and photojournalist to fashion his second novel, an ambitious and nuanced story about a small group of friends in Kabul in the wake of 9/11. It’s divided into 10 parts covering nearly 40 years. Michiko, a Japanese-American journalist, narrates the sections titled with her name in Japanese characters, while the other sections, told in the third person, focus on three of her friends: Alexandra, a human rights lawyer; Justin, a born-again Christian from Louisiana who teaches English at a local school; and Clay, an ex-soldier and childhood friend of Justin’s who’s a private contractor. In the shadows lurks Idris, an Afghan student of Justin’s. Michiko begins in Kabul in March 2012, describing a Taliban attack on a house where these friends were attending a party. She tells us she's conducted a monthslong investigation revealing they were all nearly killed because of a “love triangle: a convoluted story of pettiness.” Two days later, Alexandra, Justin, and Clay die in a car-bomb attack. Idris was driving; he survived. Both of these incidents had to be “pieces of a larger plan that was still in the works. More people could die.” As the narrative—made up of Michiko’s investigation and the novel she’s writing—goes back and forth in time (1999, 1976, 2006, 1993, 2012) and place (Maine, Louisiana, Quebec, Dubai, Kabul), we learn about motives and betrayals. She fractures the "narrative, shifting the pieces, mixing them, inter-leafing [her] past and theirs.” Béchard does a fine job of describing the experiences and emotions of these friends and their “stories of courage” that “made no sense, only to burn away, to dissolve like smoke beneath the sun.”

Despite an overly convoluted plot, this is an insightful and affecting look into the lives of those who risk everything to help the people of Afghanistan and tell their stories.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-571-31114-6

Page Count: 456

Publisher: Milkweed

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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The perfect gift for well-read mystery mavens who complain that they don’t write them like they used to.

EIGHT PERFECT MURDERS

A ghoulish killer brings a Boston bookseller’s list of perfect fictional murders to life—that is, to repeated, emphatic death.

The Red House Mystery, Malice Aforethought, The A.B.C. Murders, Double Indemnity, Strangers on a Train, The Drowner, Deathtrap, The Secret History: They may not be the best mysteries, reflects Malcolm Kershaw, but they feature the most undetectable murders, as he wrote on a little-read blog post when he was first hired at Old Devils Bookstore. Now that he owns the store with mostly silent partner Brian Murray, a semifamous mystery writer, that post has come back to haunt him. FBI agent Gwen Mulvey has observed at least three unsolved murders, maybe more, that seem to take their cues from the stories on Mal’s list. What does he think about possible links among them? she wonders. The most interesting thing he thinks is something he’s not going to share with her: He’s hiding a secret that would tie him even more closely to that list than she imagines. And while Mal is fretting about what he can do to help stop the violence without tipping his own hand, the killer, clearly untrammeled by any such scruples, continues down the list of fictional blueprints for perfect murders. Swanson (Before She Knew Him, 2019, etc.) jumps the shark early from genre thrills to metafictional puzzles, but despite a triple helping of cleverness that might seem like a fatal overdose, the pleasures of following, and trying to anticipate, a narrator who’s constantly second- and third-guessing himself and everyone around him are authentic and intense. If the final revelations are anticlimactic, that’s only because you wish the mounting complications, like a magician’s showiest routine, could go on forever.

The perfect gift for well-read mystery mavens who complain that they don’t write them like they used to.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-283820-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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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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