More cerebral than many of Ursula’s prior escapades but still an authentic Elizabethan cliffhanger.

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A WEB OF SILK

The fallout from a previous exploit comes back to haunt Queen Elizabeth’s half sister.

Mistress Ursula Stannard, who’d like to lead a quiet life caring for her estates and raising her son, Harry, is disturbed by a visit from Sir Robert Dudley, who tells her that he’s just sold neighboring Knoll House to widower Giles Frost, a Catholic merchant. When Ursula receives a message from Walsingham, the queen’s spymaster, she knows something unpleasant is coming her way. Before she can answer his summons, her servant Roger Brockley, her partner in many a dangerous adventure, finds his son, Philip Sandley, shot dead by a crossbow. Although Philip had been involved in the kidnapping of Harry (The Reluctant Assassin, 2018), Brockley grieves his only child and vows to find his killers. When Ursula travels to Greenwich Palace, Walsingham asks what seems like a small favor: for her to go to Knoll House with her companion, expert needlewoman Sybil Jester, and teach her new neighbor Frost’s twin daughters, Joyce and Jayne, to embroider while dropping false information about the British fleet that Frost will pass on to the Spanish. But first she must take up the problem of a stained glass window in the local church that is so gruesome that it disturbs children and parishioners alike. She hires Master Julius Stagg, a designer and creator of stained glass, to replace the window, which someone’s just broken. On a visit to the studio he shows her a magnificent chest that holds a stunning silver salt cellar he’s giving his niece Eleanor as a part of her wedding dowry. Soon thereafter, Stagg and a tearful Eleanor beg her to search for the chest, which they claim has been stolen and hidden at Knoll House. Despite her misgivings and the advice of her friends, Ursula agrees—a mistake that will put her and Brockley in far worse peril than some of her most harrowing tasks for the queen.

More cerebral than many of Ursula’s prior escapades but still an authentic Elizabethan cliffhanger.

Pub Date: June 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-78029-113-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Severn House

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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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