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

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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

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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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An appealing new heroine, a fast-moving plot, and a memorably nightmarish family make this one of Box’s best.

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THE BITTERROOTS

The creator of Wyoming Fish and Game Warden Joe Pickett (Wolf Pack, 2019, etc.) launches a new series starring a female private eye who messes with a powerful family and makes everyone involved rue the day.

Cassie Dewell’s been taking a monthly retainer from Bozeman attorney Rachel Mitchell for investigations of one sort and another, but she really doesn’t want to look into the case of Rachel’s newest client. That’s partly because Blake Kleinsasser, the fourth-generation firstborn of a well-established ranching family who moved to New York and made his own bundle before returning back home, comes across as a repellent jerk and partly because all the evidence indicates that he raped Franny Porché, his 15-year-old niece. And there’s plenty of evidence, from a rape kit showing his DNA to a lengthy, plausible statement from Franny. But Cassie owes Rachel, and Rachel tells her she doesn’t have to dig up exculpatory evidence, just follow the trail where it leads so that she can close off every other possibility. So Cassie agrees even though there’s an even more compelling reason not to: The Kleinsassers—Horst II and Margaret and their three other children, John Wayne, Rand, and Cheyenne, Franny’s thrice-divorced mother—are not only toxic, but viperishly dangerous to Blake and now Cassie. Everyone in Lochsa County, from Sheriff Ben Wagy on down, is in their pockets, and everyone Cassie talks to, from the Kleinsassers to the local law, finds new ways to make her life miserable. But Cassie, an ex-cop single mother, isn’t one to back down, especially since she wonders why anyone would take all the trouble to stop an investigation of a case that was as rock-solid as this one’s supposed to be.

An appealing new heroine, a fast-moving plot, and a memorably nightmarish family make this one of Box’s best.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-05105-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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