THE SMALL BANG

Fenno is the pseudonym ``for a long-established literary figure''—and the publisher is trying hard to generate excitement and suspense about who the author really is (to be revealed with hoopla in September). Maybe that's because the book itself, though dubbed a ``mystery'' and written with much style and wit, offers a thin, vaguely familiar story and no suspense whatsoever. British physicist Erich Sturmer, 66, on vacation in the Bavarian Alps with beautiful, 40-ish wife Chandra (an Indian-born theologian), disappears while recklessly skiing—and is presumed dead in an avalanche, his body unrecoverable until the weather gets warmer. Chandra wonders whether Erich's accident was in some way connected to beefy local lad Siggy Geist—a sexual athlete and primitive mathematical prodigy who'd been sharing Chandra's bed (with Erich's acquiescence) and inspiring Erich's new theories about time-and-space. Then, back in England, the focus shifts largely to narrator John Peake, a middle-aged bachelor attorney and the Sturmers' best friend—who has always sort-of-loved Chandra but marries someone else when the widow turns out to be pregnant with twins (by Erich? by Siggy?). And the book's second half follows Peake as he responds to proliferating rumors that Erich isn't really dead at all—traveling to Bavaria (where Chandra's father, a Nobel-winning biochemist, falsely identifies a thawed-out corpse) and to Monaco (where a look-alike for Erich has been sighted at the casinos). Fenno, a writer in the wry, archly intelligent, very British manner of N.S. Wilson, fills out this scenario with ironic chat about reincarnation, academia, infidelity, and Heidegger—and with a few vivid supporting characters. But Peake remains an uninvolving hero, more literary than lifelike, and the predictable denouement manages to be limp and overly melodramatic at the same time. In sum: sporadically intriguing, highly civilized, yet ultimately rather boring—no matter who wrote it.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-679-41365-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1992

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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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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

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