An intriguing but less propulsive entry in an unusually robust year for linguistic thrillers.

THE SILENT HISTORY

The world reels with shock and dismay when an entire generation of children is born without the ability to create or comprehend language.

It should be interesting to see how this strange dystopian voyage, composed by a talented triptych of writers, is interpreted by readers who don’t know its innovative origins. This is the analog version of a reportedly addictive digital application of the same name that originally published one story a day; it takes the form of an oral history of the first 30 years of a modern plague that leaves otherwise normal children without the ability to speak, read or write. Clearly borrowing heavily from Max Brooks’ World War Z, this semi-anthology doesn’t include one of the original app’s more interesting features: location-based field reports that could only be activated at certain GPS locations. That being the case, one might expect to find a tighter, more cohesive plotline; but the rambling, episodic and extremely brief natures of its dated entries make it hard to become absorbed in its narrative arc. The first half is very much social commentary, with the linguistic nonconformity of the “silents” standing in for the growing ranks of children with autism and highlighting the well-worn bigotry that emerges around those who are different (dubbed here “mutetards” by the ignorant). Many of the early stories are less compelling—the parents who wish so dearly to have the “normal” children they were expecting; teachers who struggle to reach students who can understand math or art but not their instructions; and the scientists delving into the mysterious origins of the illness. It’s not until forces start to shape the silent generation that the novel gets very interesting indeed. We learn that the children are evolving their own forms of nonlinguistic communication at the same time scientists start using neural implants to “cure” the silent, who may not be so eager to play along.

An intriguing but less propulsive entry in an unusually robust year for linguistic thrillers.

Pub Date: June 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-374-53447-9

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 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 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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