This novel has a devilishly clever gimmick and a plot to go with it; worth a read, despite its flaws.

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Photographic Memory

A mystery that toggles between centuries and pits present-day antiquarians against a 19th-century serial killer—with a ghost thrown in for good measure.

Alberts’ (A Twist of Fate, 2015, etc.) story begins with Roy Archibald, a retired police detective, and his charming friends, who all work at an antique store. Roy deals in antique photographs, and as such, has a rare gift: when he holds certain photos in his hands, he goes into a sort of trance and can relive the stories behind the images. In this way, he uncovers the fact that Otis Johnson (1856-1918), a roving professional photographer, was also a serial killer. Soon, the search is on to uncover all of Johnson’s heinous crimes, and at least provide some closure to the cases and relief to the victims’ descendants. Then, just as readers settle into this rather benign historical mystery, a plot twist gives them a real kick in the gut; suffice it to say that the flourishing of evil didn’t end with Johnson. The story shifts nicely between the present and Johnson’s era as he dispatches one victim after another. One subplot shows how the oldsters become closer as they work on the case; there’s even, eventually, a wedding. There’s also a snarky teenager, Holly Wilson, who has a psychic gift as well—and a mysterious habit of showing up in Roy’s stall and then disappearing. Alberts does a good job of developing his characters, and even Johnson is more fascinating than appalling. The writing, however, is somewhat uneven; for example, the author has a habit of overreaching with his diction (such as using the phrase “ocular intake” for “looking around”), which, if it’s a conscious choice, doesn’t work as planned. Characters also seldom “say” things; rather, they “posit,” “scold,” “observe,” or whatnot, which becomes a game, but not a pleasure.

This novel has a devilishly clever gimmick and a plot to go with it; worth a read, despite its flaws.

Pub Date: June 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-5001-1839-6

Page Count: 316

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2016

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A kicky, kinky, wildly inventive 21st-century mashup with franker language and a higher body count than Hamlet.

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SHAKESPEARE FOR SQUIRRELS

Manic parodist Moore, fresh off a season in 1947 San Francisco (Noir, 2018), returns with a rare gift for Shakespeare fans who think A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be perfect if only it were a little more madcap.

Cast adrift by pirates together with his apprentice, halfwit giant Drool, and Jeff, his barely less intelligent monkey, Pocket of Dog Snogging upon Ouze, jester to the late King Lear, washes ashore in Shakespeare’s Athens, where Cobweb, a squirrel by day and fairy by night, takes him under her wing and other parts. Soon after he encounters Robin Goodfellow (the Puck), jester to shadow king Oberon, and Nick Bottom and the other clueless mechanicals rehearsing Pyramus and Thisby in a nearby forest before they present it in celebration of the wedding of Theseus, Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, the captive Amazon queen who’s captured his heart, Pocket (The Serpent of Venice, 2014, etc.) finds Robin fatally shot by an arrow. Suspected briefly of the murder himself, he’s commissioned, first by Hippolyta, then by the unwitting Theseus, to identify the Puck’s killer. Oh, and Egeus, the Duke’s steward, wants him to find and execute Lysander, who’s run off with Egeus’ daughter, Hermia, instead of marrying Helena, who’s in love with Demetrius. As English majors can attest, a remarkable amount of this madness can already be found in Shakespeare’s play. Moore’s contribution is to amp up the couplings, bawdy language, violence, and metatextual analogies between the royals, the fairies, the mechanicals, his own interloping hero, and any number of other plays by the Bard.

A kicky, kinky, wildly inventive 21st-century mashup with franker language and a higher body count than Hamlet.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-243402-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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