A fulfilling mystery with impressive plot intricacies.

ISABEL

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 compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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A satisfying, if predictable, thriller that will please fans of police procedurals.

THE BUTTERFLY HOUSE

When health care aide Bettina Holte is found drained of blood in Copenhagen’s oldest fountain, little does Investigator Jeppe Kørner know that he has a budding serial killer on his hands.

The very next day, another body is found, similarly drained. Under increasing pressure from his superintendent, Kørner quickly deduces that the murder weapon was a scarificator, a strange bloodletting device. He also learns that both victims once worked at Butterfly House, a short-lived residential home for teens with psychiatric illnesses. The home was closed after a young girl died by suicide and a social worker was found drowned. An expert at narrative sleight of hand, Engberg strews the investigational field with multiple suspects, each shadowy enough to maintain our suspicions. Perhaps Bo Ramsgaard, the teen's grieving father, is worth a closer look. Or perhaps one of the young people could hold a grudge against the staff, which included the ambitious psychiatrist Peter Demant and nurse Trine Bremen, who has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Yet former patient Isak Brügger, diagnosed with schizophrenia, is still under nearly 24-hour surveillance at the Bispebjerg Hospital, as Simon Hartvig, his social worker, can attest. And former patient Marie Birch is now living in an insular countercultural community. Meanwhile, Kørner himself is conflicted about his relationship with Detective Sara Saidani: Is he ready to try again so soon after his divorce? And Kørner’s partner, Anette Werner, is on maternity leave but can’t resist getting involved as well. It’s her work that collides with Kørner’s for a dramatic final confrontation.

A satisfying, if predictable, thriller that will please fans of police procedurals.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982127-60-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scout Press/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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