Houston comes across as a haven of multiculturalism—though, as in all the 90-plus volumes of Akashic’s 15-year-old series,...

READ REVIEW

HOUSTON NOIR

Editor Zepeda departs from her usual diet of brightly bilingual children’s books (Maya and Annie on Saturdays and Sundays/Los Sábados y Domingos de Maya y Annie, 2018, etc.) to present 14 reasons to avoid visiting Houston, or to be sorry that you live there.

Zepeda’s not kidding when she says the newly commissioned stories “hurt me. They burned.” There’s precious little comfort to be found in any of these Houston neighborhoods, most of which are set light-years away from the city’s notoriously cushy new-money culture. No less than four stories—Tom Abrahams’s “Tolerance,” Pia Pico’s “The Falls of Westpark,” Sehba Sarwar’s “Railway Track,” and Icess Fernandez Rojas’ “Happy Hunting,” whose combination of creeps and surprises makes it the volume’s low-life high point—feature serial killings of young women. The naïve young hero of Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton’s “Where the Ends Meet” and the almost equally naïve cop hero of Leslie Contreras Schwartz’s “City of Girls” find that the girls in question have merely been sexually enslaved, not murdered, and Robert Boswell’s alarmingly kicky “The Use of Landscape” dials back the violence by focusing it on only a single woman. The traffic in drugs creates intimate tragedies in Wanjiku Wa Ngugi’s “Miles’s Blues” and Stephanie Jaye Evans’ “Jamie’s Mother.” Even when professional criminals aren’t involved, the squalor associated with them infects the one-off murders of Larry Watts’ “A Dark Universe” and Adrienne Perry’s “One in the Family” and the domestic dramas of Sarah Cortez’s prose poem, “Photo Album,” and Anton DiSclafani’s “Tangled.” So it’s something of a relief to turn to Reyes Ramirez’s “Xitlali Zaragoza, Curandera,” which involves nothing more sinister than the curse professionally unmasked and lifted by a dedicated investigator of hauntings.

Houston comes across as a haven of multiculturalism—though, as in all the 90-plus volumes of Akashic’s 15-year-old series, the vision of the city that emerges isn’t likely to jump-start tourism for any but the most ghoulishly inclined.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61775-706-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Akashic

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more