Compassion and authenticity bolster the anemic suspense.

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MESSENGER OF TRUTH

The fourth in a series (Birds of a Feather, 2004, etc.) of class-conscious World War II–era whodunits.

On a beastly cold winter day, London artist Nicholas Bassington-Hope is found dead in his gallery, where he had been erecting scaffolding for the mysterious pièce de résistance of his upcoming show. Scotland Yards rules Nick’s death an accident and closes the case. But his twin sister, Georgina, is convinced that there was foul play and hires psychologist and investigator Maisie Dobbs to look into the matter. Maisie spends the next several days acquainting herself with Nick’s high-brow family, his loyal friends, and the rich patrons who were interested in buying his work. She learns that Nick, while universally respected as a talented artist, also produced a body of evocative and even offensive work. Did his latest masterpiece, which he had kept hidden from even close family and friends, have the potential to shock and anger someone into murder? Other characters in his life are also suspicious. Nick’s older sister Nolly is a war widow who disapproved of his lifestyle and seems overly interested in his assets. His younger brother Harry is a derelict gambler who had gotten involved with the wrong crowd—one Scotland Yard is trailing far closer than Nick’s potential homicide. And even Georgina, a writer whom Maisie learns has been involved in a secret affair with Nick’s American patron—had recently been particularly competitive with her twin. As Maisie flits among the moneyed gentry of the Bassington-Hopes, she is all too aware of the growing chasm between their world and the rest of London. Her own assistant, Billy, can hardly pay for a doctor for his dying toddler, and his East End neighbors and relatives who came back from the war in France are largely jobless and homeless. Though the actual mystery is not as intricate Maisie’s previous adventures, Winspear makes up for it with careful, detailed treatment of the time period and its social issues.

Compassion and authenticity bolster the anemic suspense.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 2006

ISBN: 0-8050-7898-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

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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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