Winspear (To Die but Once, 2018, etc.) advances Maisie’s inspiring activities, highlights the bravery of an embattled people...

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THE AMERICAN AGENT

An intrepid British investigator continues her war efforts.

September 1940 finds England nightly suffering the horrors of the Blitz. The morning after volunteer ambulance drivers Maisie Dobbs and her best friend, Priscilla Partridge, spend an evening with Catherine Saxon, an American print reporter who hopes to work for Edward R. Murrow, whose radio reports have done so much to change America’s isolationist views, Maisie gets a call from Robbie MacFarlane, whose hush-hush job has required her services before. Acting on the recommendation of American agent Mark Scott, whom Maisie met while spying in Germany, Robbie asks her to investigate a murder—that of Catherine Saxon, whose throat was cut in her own lodgings sometime after her night out with Maisie and Priscilla. Maisie—a widow, nurse, spy, psychologist, and independent enquiry agent—finds Scott strangely uninterested in the case, perhaps because he has his own fish to fry. Maisie’s first look at the body reveals marks of a strangulation attempt, a tiny tattoo of the initials JT, and signs of a prior pregnancy. She interviews Cath’s best friend, Jennifer Barrington, and also the other women living in the house. Cath comes from a wealthy political family. Her father, an isolationist senator who just wanted her to make an advantageous marriage, had virtually cut her off. Jennifer acknowledges that Cath had a child who died while she was reporting in Spain. She can’t name the father, but she does know that Cath has dated an American flying with the RAF and has been visited by other unidentified men. Maisie gets some help from Scott, and their partnership tacks toward romance, but his calculated reserve prevents her from trusting him. After Priscilla is badly burned rescuing several children, Maisie has more time to devote to her investigation, whose disparate clues will lead to a shocking finale.

Winspear (To Die but Once, 2018, etc.) advances Maisie’s inspiring activities, highlights the bravery of an embattled people during the Second World War, and intimates that lessons from that period have yet to be learned.

Pub Date: March 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-243666-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s...

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THE NICKEL BOYS

The acclaimed author of The Underground Railroad (2016) follows up with a leaner, meaner saga of Deep South captivity set in the mid-20th century and fraught with horrors more chilling for being based on true-life atrocities.

Elwood Curtis is a law-abiding, teenage paragon of rectitude, an avid reader of encyclopedias and after-school worker diligently overcoming hardships that come from being abandoned by his parents and growing up black and poor in segregated Tallahassee, Florida. It’s the early 1960s, and Elwood can feel changes coming every time he listens to an LP of his hero Martin Luther King Jr. sermonizing about breaking down racial barriers. But while hitchhiking to his first day of classes at a nearby black college, Elwood accepts a ride in what turns out to be a stolen car and is sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory that looks somewhat like the campus he’d almost attended but turns out to be a monstrously racist institution whose students, white and black alike, are brutally beaten, sexually abused, and used by the school’s two-faced officials to steal food and supplies. At first, Elwood thinks he can work his way past the arbitrary punishments and sadistic treatment (“I am stuck here, but I’ll make the best of it…and I’ll make it brief”). He befriends another black inmate, a street-wise kid he knows only as Turner, who has a different take on withstanding Nickel: “The key to in here is the same as surviving out there—you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course.” And if you defy them, Turner warns, you’ll get taken “out back” and are never seen or heard from again. Both Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s cynicism entwine into an alliance that compels drastic action—and a shared destiny. There's something a tad more melodramatic in this book's conception (and resolution) than one expects from Whitehead, giving it a drugstore-paperback glossiness that enhances its blunt-edged impact.

Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s novel displays its author’s facility with violent imagery and his skill at weaving narrative strands into an ingenious if disquieting whole.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-53707-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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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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