Richly imaginative and psychologically complex.

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CURIOUS TOYS

Chicago, 1915: In the midst of a steamy summer, a rash of child murders terrifies the city in Hand's (Hard Light, 2016, etc.) latest.

After her younger sister went missing, 14-year-old Pin’s mother, the carnival fortuneteller, told her to dress like a boy, so now she runs free through the park, delivering drugs, sneaking into rides, and hoping for a chance to see Glory, a local movie actress. But most of all she enjoys the chance to observe the chaotic scene of the carnival. One day, she notices a man and a young girl in line for the Hell Gate, a notorious “love boat” ride—only the man emerges alone from the other side of the tunnel. Girls go missing all the time in Chicago, but Pin’s suspicions are piqued, and when she discovers the girl’s naked body floating in the waters of the ride, all hell breaks loose. As the carnival policeman, Francis Bacon, conducts an investigation along with the local cops, Pin encounters help of her own in the form of Henry Darger, clearly a fictionalized version of the real reclusive artist. Here, he is a strange and troubled man who lives at the hospital and calls himself a “general of the Gemini,” purporting to protect and rescue girls in trouble. To call the novel and its characters “colorful” is a terrific understatement. A carnival setting immediately allows for a higher threshold of the bizarre, but Hand skillfully develops each character beyond mere oddity or empty sensation. Even Charlie Chaplin gets a cameo, though it’s far from flattering. Dr. H.H. Holmes is a ghostly presence within the novel, invoked by several characters; this comparison to another Chicago murderer serves to deepen context. While Henry and his occasional moments of narration take a little getting used to, the wordplay and imagination that qualify his chapters become more and more appealing. Most of all, Pin is an engaging, courageous heroine, and her musings on gender identity are both poignant and relevant.

Richly imaginative and psychologically complex.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-48588-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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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Creepy, violent, and propulsive; a standout gothic mystery.

THINGS IN JARS

Lady detective Bridie Devine searches for a missing child and finds much more than she bargained for.

Bridie Devine is no stranger to the seedy underworld of Victorian London. An accomplished detective with medical training, she sometimes helps the police by examining bodies to determine the cause of death. Bridie recently failed to find a lost child, and when she’s approached about another missing child, the daughter of Sir Edmund Berwick, she isn’t enthusiastic about taking on the case. But Christabel Berwick is no ordinary child. Sir Edmund has hidden Christabel away her whole life and wants Bridie to believe this is an ordinary kidnapping. Bridie does a little digging and learns that Christabel isn’t his daughter so much as his prized specimen. Sir Edmund believes Christabel is a “merrow,” a darker and less romanticized version of a mermaid. Bridie is skeptical, but there are reports of Christabel’s sharp teeth, color-changing eyes, and ability to drown people on dry land. Given that Bridie’s new companion is a ghost who refuses to tell her why he’s haunting her, Bridie might want to open her mind a bit. There’s a lot going on in this singular novel, and none of it pretty. Bridie’s London is soaked with mud and blood, and her past is nightmarish at best. Kidd (Mr. Flood’s Last Resort, 2018, etc.) is an expert at setting a supernatural mood perfect for ghosts and merrows, but her human villains make them seem mundane by comparison. With so much detail and so many clever, Dickensian characters, readers might petition Kidd to give Bridie her own series.

Creepy, violent, and propulsive; a standout gothic mystery.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-2128-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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