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ISABEL

A fulfilling mystery with impressive plot intricacies.

Awards & Accolades

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

In La Barre’s (Stranger in Vienna, 1995) latest novel, a young girl becomes entwined in secrets that resurface upon a young woman’s return to a small town.

Young Melinda MacDougall befriends Wilhelmina Kingsley, the old woman who lives in the grand house across the street. She spends afternoons listening to Ms. Kingsley talk of Isabel Benoit Lockwood, her orphaned niece. Isabel, raised by Wilhelmina, was once married to Forrest Lockwood, the son of powerful and scrupulous Owen Lockwood, owner of Lockwood Machine in Dexter, Mass. The loss of her firstborn son and husband drove Isabel to Rome to mend, while others blamed her for Forrest’s presumed suicide and the tragic death of baby Sam. Upon Wilhelmina’s death, Isabel returns with her cross-eyed adopted Italian son, Carlo, to claim her inheritance—the Kingsley estate. Melinda, who takes expensive piano lessons from Isabel and plays with Carlo, is captivated by the woman; she unknowingly ends up tangled in Isabel’s money troubles and her web of men. Among these compelling, well-developed characters are Mr. Farinelli, an Italian-American involved in real estate, who loves Isabel and tries to protect her; Mr. Zanotti, a sinister Italian man whose true connection to Isabel and Carlo is a mystery; and former father-in-law Owen, who hopes to unearth a secret that will get rid of Isabel once and for all, despite his unsavory sexual feelings for her. La Barre does well by providing backstory through Wilhelmina’s account before moving on to Melinda’s experiences with Isabel and Carlo. The lack of chapter breaks speeds the story along, adding to the gripping nature of this thriller. The characters are multifaceted, yet their motivations are never cut and dried. La Barre’s use of foreshadowing is subtle enough to build suspense, keeping the twists and turns of the plot believable but unexpected.

A fulfilling mystery with impressive plot intricacies.

Pub Date: Feb. 27, 2012

ISBN: 978-1466301634

Page Count: 190

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

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. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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EVERYONE IN MY FAMILY HAS KILLED SOMEONE

This book and its author are cleverer than you and want you to know it.

In this mystery, the narrator constantly adds commentary on how the story is constructed.

In 1929, during the golden age of mysteries, a (real-life) writer named Ronald Knox published the “10 Commandments of Detective Fiction,” 10 rules that mystery writers should obey in order to “play fair.” When faced with his own mystery story, our narrator, an author named Ernest Cunningham who "write[s] books about how to write books," feels like he must follow these rules himself. The story seemingly begins on the night his brother Michael calls to ask him to help bury a body—and shows up with the body and a bag containing $267,000. Fast-forward three years, and Ernie’s family has gathered at a ski resort to celebrate Michael’s release from prison. The family dynamics are, to put it lightly, complicated—and that’s before a man shows up dead in the snow and Michael arrives with a coffin in a truck. When the local cop arrests Michael for the murder, things get even more complicated: There are more deaths; Michael tells a story about a coverup involving their father, who was part of a gang called the Sabers; and Ernie still has (most of) the money and isn’t sure whom to trust or what to do with it. Eventually, Ernie puts all the pieces together and gathers the (remaining) family members and various extras for the great denouement. As the plot develops, it becomes clear that there’s a pretty interesting mystery at the heart of this novel, but Stevenson’s postmodern style has Ernie constantly breaking the fourth wall to explain how the structure of his story meets the criteria for a successful detective story. Some readers are drawn to mysteries because they love the formula and logic—this one’s for them. If you like the slow, sometimes-creepy, sometimes-comforting unspooling of a good mystery, it might not be your cup of tea—though the ending, to be fair, is still something of a surprise.

This book and its author are cleverer than you and want you to know it.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-06-327902-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Mariner Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2022

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