Some thoughtful reflections hampered by turgid prose and a sluggish plot.


A high school teacher finds himself pulled into a drug-smuggling scheme in this philosophically charged novel. 

Leslie is an English teacher in a town in Michigan—a handsome introvert who seems to be stuck in an uncertain romance with his college sweetheart, Cindy. Adventure beckons, however, when he receives an urgent letter from his old college roommate, David, who’s now in prison after having been caught in possession of a massive amount of marijuana. David needs money to pay for his legal defense, so he asks Leslie to travel to California to retrieve a cache of drugs and deliver them to contacts who’ll manage its sale. Leslie owes David a moral debt: when the two were in college, David was arrested and willingly took the fall for a drug sale that Leslie had organized. So, much to Cindy’s chagrin, Leslie drives out West make good on his promises. There is some adventure on this illicit road trip, as Leslie narrowly escapes New Mexico patrolmen, entertains a sexual dalliance with a flirtatious stranger, and attempts to sneak a colossal heap of marijuana past U.S. customs agents. But most of the book is devoted to Leslie’s inner monologue, which ranges broadly from the political to the philosophical. The crux of these ruminations is the gradual erosion of individual liberty in America—a theme that crescendos during a courtroom trial. Debut author Mangles displays impressive erudition on a range of topics as Leslie’s thoughts peripatetically roam from the deficiencies of existentialism to the nature of taxation and the designs of the Founding Fathers. The author’s philosophical ambition, as articulated in the book’s introduction, is an admirable one—to capture the essence of what it means to be American. However, the plot ends up being little more than a vehicle for lengthy, essaylike diatribes that stretch on for pages at a time. Also, the writing is consistently convoluted and clumsy: “Leslie looked toward the heavens to see the gravid moon disgorge its golden baubles of luminescence in an attempt to clarify this enigmatic world.” 

Some thoughtful reflections hampered by turgid prose and a sluggish plot.

Pub Date: May 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-5246-8538-6

Page Count: 538

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2017

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


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.


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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