A smart, straightforward narrative that reveals the varied mood a shared experience can evoke.

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CAMANCHACA

A young man strains to understand the source of his parents’ split as well as an uncle’s suspicious death.

The unnamed narrator of Zúñiga’s spare English debut is 20 years old and on a road trip with his father through Chile’s Atacama Desert, spending time with that side of the family before getting some dental work done. (The narrator has bleeding-gum issues after spending his adolescence subsisting entirely on junk food, it seems.) This simple plot has plenty of storm clouds: as the first page explains, he believes his father killed his uncle Neno years before, though the novel is less an investigation than a meditation on this act. The novel’s structure highlights the narrator’s split existence: one to two paragraphs per page, with each page alternating between the young man’s travels with dad and his childhood with mom. The latter experience, in his telling, was dour bordering on oppressive: he recalls being an aspiring journalist as his mother sparingly reveals details about Neno; the narrator’s dead brother; and her split from his father. Dad, meanwhile, is upbeat, with a new wife and son, though he keeps his distance from his own father, a devout Jehovah’s Witness. A camanchaca is a fog unique to Chile in parts where the desert abuts the coast, a fitting metaphor for the deliberate fuzziness of memory and emotion that Zúñiga cultivates. “[Dad] explains that one must respect the desert and the highway, that not just anyone can drive there,” he writes, which is a bit of bluster but also underscores the point that navigating those memories won’t be easy. The book’s brevity and mannered structure dampen its emotional impact; it will be interesting to see what Zúñiga can do with a broader canvas. But he’s thoughtfully commanded three complex lives in a limited space.

A smart, straightforward narrative that reveals the varied mood a shared experience can evoke.

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-56689-460-9

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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Amateurish, with a twist savvy readers will see coming from a mile away.

THE SILENT PATIENT

A woman accused of shooting her husband six times in the face refuses to speak.

"Alicia Berenson was thirty-three years old when she killed her husband. They had been married for seven years. They were both artists—Alicia was a painter, and Gabriel was a well-known fashion photographer." Michaelides' debut is narrated in the voice of psychotherapist Theo Faber, who applies for a job at the institution where Alicia is incarcerated because he's fascinated with her case and believes he will be able to get her to talk. The narration of the increasingly unrealistic events that follow is interwoven with excerpts from Alicia's diary. Ah, yes, the old interwoven diary trick. When you read Alicia's diary you'll conclude the woman could well have been a novelist instead of a painter because it contains page after page of detailed dialogue, scenes, and conversations quite unlike those in any journal you've ever seen. " 'What's the matter?' 'I can't talk about it on the phone, I need to see you.' 'It's just—I'm not sure I can make it up to Cambridge at the minute.' 'I'll come to you. This afternoon. Okay?' Something in Paul's voice made me agree without thinking about it. He sounded desperate. 'Okay. Are you sure you can't tell me about it now?' 'I'll see you later.' Paul hung up." Wouldn't all this appear in a diary as "Paul wouldn't tell me what was wrong"? An even more improbable entry is the one that pins the tail on the killer. While much of the book is clumsy, contrived, and silly, it is while reading passages of the diary that one may actually find oneself laughing out loud.

Amateurish, with a twist savvy readers will see coming from a mile away.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-30169-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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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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