One of Duncan’s best mysteries, with plenty of suspects and motives but no easy answers to whodunit.

THE MARMALADE MURDERS

Could a trophy possibly be a motive for murder?

Canadian expat Penny Brannigan’s lived for nearly 30 years in the lovely Welsh town of Llanelen, where she and her business partner, Victoria, run a successful spa. Always happy to give back to the community, she agrees to judge the children’s pet contest at the local agricultural show and to join Victoria in checking in the home crafts the night before the show. Joyce Devlin and Barbara Vickers, who help them set up, warn that the time to accept entries ends promptly at 8 p.m. Never having realized how fiercely competitive the entrants are, Penny’s surprised to learn when she phones her friend Florence Semble, whose entries are close to missing the deadline, that someone has called to tell her not to bring in her entries until Saturday morning. Penny's phone call saves Florence’s entries, but then, after they arrive, Florence's cake and marmalade vanish before they can be judged. After the show ends, Penny discovers a body hidden under a table with the smashed remains of Florence’s cake. The dead woman is Gaynor Lewis, whose daughter, Michelle, has been looking for her ever since she missed the contest won by her granddaughter’s pet. Ever curious, Penny (Murder is for Keeps, 2017, etc.) sets out to help her friend Inspector Bethan Morgan solve the case. Although Florence’s entries were sabotaged, other people may also have had reason to kill Gaynor, including her ex and his new wife. Penny grows especially suspicious of Joyce Devlin, the sister-in-law who was barely on speaking terms with Gaynor and has just built an expensive new kennel despite a stack of unpaid bills, and Gaynor's sister, Andrea Devlin, a trans woman recently returned to the area, who freely admits to hating Gaynor. In truth, though, so many people are hiding innocuous secrets that it’s hard to discern the truth in time to prevent another death.

One of Duncan’s best mysteries, with plenty of suspects and motives but no easy answers to whodunit.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-10149-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 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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A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be...

BADLANDS

Box takes another break from his highly successful Joe Pickett series (Stone Cold, 2014, etc.) for a stand-alone about a police detective, a developmentally delayed boy, and a package everyone in North Dakota wants to grab.

Cassandra Dewell can’t leave Montana’s Lewis and Clark County fast enough for her new job as chief investigator for Jon Kirkbride, sheriff of Bakken County. She leaves behind no memories worth keeping: her husband is dead, her boss has made no bones about disliking her, and she’s looking forward to new responsibilities and the higher salary underwritten by North Dakota’s sudden oil boom. But Bakken County has its own issues. For one thing, it’s cold—a whole lot colder than the coldest weather Cassie’s ever imagined. For another, the job she turns out to have been hired for—leading an investigation her new boss doesn’t feel he can entrust to his own force—makes her queasy. The biggest problem, though, is one she doesn’t know about until it slaps her in the face. A fatal car accident that was anything but accidental has jarred loose a stash of methamphetamines and cash that’s become the center of a battle between the Sons of Freedom, Bakken County’s traditional drug sellers, and MS-13, the Salvadorian upstarts who are muscling in on their territory. It’s a setup that leaves scant room for law enforcement officers or for Kyle Westergaard, the 12-year-old paperboy damaged since birth by fetal alcohol syndrome, who’s walked away from the wreck with a prize all too many people would kill for.

A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be welcome to return and tie up the gaping loose end Box leaves. The unrelenting cold makes this the perfect beach read.

Pub Date: July 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-58321-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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