THE LONG FIRM

British writer Arnott’s ingeniously constructed first novel, set in the criminal world of London’s West End and reminiscent of such recent films as The Long Good Friday and The Krays, is in fact already being made into a five-part BBC-TV miniseries. Ruthless mobster Harry Starks (“The Torture Gang Boss”) is shown to us through the eyes of five “associates” who cross his path at various points throughout the “60s, a decade when Harry’s power is challenged only by the malevolent (real-life) Kray twins (briefly flickering offstage presences in a gaudy narrative that also notes appearances by Judy Garland, Johnnie Ray, and Evelyn Waugh, among other celebs). The first narrator is Terry, a rootless boy-toy who earns (gay) Harry’s favor, until his unwitting participation in a scam gone wrong brings Terry face-to-face with “The White-Hot Poker.” Subsequent tales are told by Lord “Teddy” Thursby, a profligate MP Harry almost casually pockets; “freelance” drug peddler “Jack the Hat,” an unfortunate crony in Harry’s scheme to corner the pop music and pornography markets; Ruby Ryder, “a tarty actress with a shady past,” who’s moving right on up the ladder—until she takes Harry’s new boyfriend to bed; and ingenuous “hippie” Lenny, the “Open University” tutor who bonds with Harry during the latter’s imprisonment, and is drawn inexorably into his crafty pupil’s violent orbit, just as the story veers toward its bitterly ironic end. Harry—whom we see only as these others see him—is a very considerable creation: a romantic who loves show business and its people (he owns a nightclub, the Stardust) as well as beautiful young men, and also a remorseless sadist “famous . . . [for his] black moods and crazy outbursts.” Arnott keeps us guessing how he’ll continue topping himself, in an extravagantly energized narrative leavened by occasional outcroppings of grim humor (a carefully planned “hit,” for example, fizzles when its intended victim simply isn’t home). A terrific debut. And don’t miss the miniseries.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1999

ISBN: 1-56947-169-X

Page Count: 345

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2000

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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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