It’s easy to see why Queen’s exercise in deduction has dated badly: Everything about it is creaky and artificial, from the...

THE CHINESE ORANGE MYSTERY

Imperishable anthologist Otto Penzler kicks off his newest publishing venture, a reprint series of American Mystery Classics, with this 1934 brainteaser involving perhaps the strangest crime scene in all fiction.

When millionaire publisher/philatelist/gem collector Donald Kirk and his acquaintance Ellery Queen (The Adventure of the Murdered Moths, 2005, etc.) stop just before dinner at Kirk’s office, on the 22nd floor of New York’s Hotel Chancellor, they step inside to find everything in the waiting room—framed pictures, bookcases, furniture, rugs—turned backward and an unknown caller who’d told Kirk’s secretary, James Osborne, that he was here to see Mr. Kirk on a matter of great importance beaten to death and wearing all his clothes backward as well. Why would someone, presumably the killer, have taken the trouble to create such a baffling scene? That’s one of the greatest riddles in Golden Age detective fiction, and it’s a shame that nothing in between the opening sequence and the two concluding chapters that follow Queen’s signature Challenge to the Reader remotely measures up to it. Since the corpse remains unidentified and there’s precious little evidence beyond the bizarre state of the murder room, Queen, whom this early case finds at his most mannered (“I don’t feel in the donative mood this morning”), spends his time chatting up the forgettable suspects—Kirk’s cantankerous father; his sister, Marcella; his partner, Felix Berne; his friend Glenn Macgowan; and the two women in his life, perceptive Jo Temple and seductive Irene Llewes—and alternately unearthing and dismissing red herrings. Penzler’s introduction, which focuses on the cousins who created the Queen pseudonym, is brief but informative.

It’s easy to see why Queen’s exercise in deduction has dated badly: Everything about it is creaky and artificial, from the incredible logistics of the murder to the alleged passions of the characters. After all these years, though, the unbridled ingenuity of its central puzzle has never been surpassed.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61316-110-4

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Penzler Publishers

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

Proficient but eminently predictable. Amid all the time shifts and embedded backstories, the most surprising feature is how...

THE A LIST

A convicted killer’s list of five people he wants dead runs the gamut from the wife he’s already had murdered to franchise heroine Ali Reynolds.

Back in the day, women came from all over to consult Santa Clarita fertility specialist Dr. Edward Gilchrist. Many of them left his care happily pregnant, never dreaming that the father of the babies they carried was none other than the physician himself, who donated his own sperm rather than that of the handsome, athletic, disease-free men pictured in his scrapbook. When Alexandra Munsey’s son, Evan, is laid low by the kidney disease he’s inherited from his biological father and she returns to Gilchrist in search of the donor’s medical records, the roof begins to fall in on him. By the time it’s done falling, he’s serving a life sentence in Folsom Prison for commissioning the death of his wife, Dawn, the former nurse and sometime egg donor who’d turned on him. With nothing left to lose, Gilchrist tattoos himself with the initials of five people he blames for his fall: Dawn; Leo Manuel Aurelio, the hit man he’d hired to dispose of her; Kaitlyn Todd, the nurse/receptionist who took Dawn’s place; Alex Munsey, whose search for records upset his apple cart; and Ali Reynolds, the TV reporter who’d helped put Alex in touch with the dozen other women who formed the Progeny Project because their children looked just like hers. No matter that Ali’s been out of both California and the news business for years; Gilchrist and his enablers know that revenge can’t possibly be served too cold. Wonder how far down that list they’ll get before Ali, aided once more by Frigg, the methodical but loose-cannon AI first introduced in Duel to the Death (2018), turns on them?

Proficient but eminently predictable. Amid all the time shifts and embedded backstories, the most surprising feature is how little the boundary-challenged AI, who gets into the case more or less inadvertently, differs from your standard human sidekick with issues.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5101-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

more