An entertaining mix of fact, fiction, feminism, and the occult.

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THE SPIRITUALIST MURDERS

From the Portia of the Pacific Historical Mysteries series , Vol. 2

In this mystery sequel, women in 1886 San Francisco investigate murders of husbands by their hypnotized wives.

In Musgrave’s (Chinawoman’s Chance, 2018, etc.) first installment of his series, he tells the story of a fictional 1884 murder case involving several historical San Franciscans, including Clara Shortridge Foltz, California’s first female lawyer, and Ah Toy, a famous and wealthy Chinatown madam. In this volume, set two years later, Clara, 37, has been living with her brood of children at a Nob Hill mansion with her best friend, Ah Toy, 58, now an affluent art dealer. At a Rosicrucian gathering, Clara meets Adeline Quantrill, a distressed young woman who can hear thoughts from the living and the dead. She’s a disciple of Rosicrucian Dr. Paschal Beverly Randolph, another historical figure, who wrote a banned book on sexual magic. A servant in a prosperous household, Adeline was called as a witness in the trial of Rachel Wilson-Rafferty for killing her abusive husband; the defense hoped her testimony would establish that the wife’s doctor mesmerized her into doing it. The Nob Hill crew investigates further: questioning witnesses (sometimes through Adeline’s clairvoyance), drawing on Ah Toy’s uncle Little Pete (a Chinatown criminal), and learning more about Randolph. Additional cases arise of rich, abusive husbands seemingly murdered by their wives, and clues increasingly point toward wealthy widow Sarah Winchester’s mysterious mansion and a flamboyant spiritualist residing there. Can his nefarious plot be stopped? In this second outing, Musgrave nicely orchestrates historical elements from this heady era, such as the Winchester house and Randolph’s ideas; they’re as strange and compelling as fictive paranormal abilities. The link between the occult and the suffrage movement is a captivating example of how politics makes strange bedfellows, since two of the few venues where women’s voices could be heard were churches and spiritualist meetings: “We support women’s rights under the guise of spiritual communication,” says Clara. The author wrangles his large cast fairly well, although so much unusual action packed into a short space can become hard to track. A few anachronisms interrupt the historical feel: “We must get this image out into the media,” for example.

An entertaining mix of fact, fiction, feminism, and the occult.

Pub Date: May 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-943457-34-2

Page Count: 158

Publisher: EMRE Fiction

Review Posted Online: July 9, 2018

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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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An appealing new heroine, a fast-moving plot, and a memorably nightmarish family make this one of Box’s best.

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THE BITTERROOTS

The creator of Wyoming Fish and Game Warden Joe Pickett (Wolf Pack, 2019, etc.) launches a new series starring a female private eye who messes with a powerful family and makes everyone involved rue the day.

Cassie Dewell’s been taking a monthly retainer from Bozeman attorney Rachel Mitchell for investigations of one sort and another, but she really doesn’t want to look into the case of Rachel’s newest client. That’s partly because Blake Kleinsasser, the fourth-generation firstborn of a well-established ranching family who moved to New York and made his own bundle before returning back home, comes across as a repellent jerk and partly because all the evidence indicates that he raped Franny Porché, his 15-year-old niece. And there’s plenty of evidence, from a rape kit showing his DNA to a lengthy, plausible statement from Franny. But Cassie owes Rachel, and Rachel tells her she doesn’t have to dig up exculpatory evidence, just follow the trail where it leads so that she can close off every other possibility. So Cassie agrees even though there’s an even more compelling reason not to: The Kleinsassers—Horst II and Margaret and their three other children, John Wayne, Rand, and Cheyenne, Franny’s thrice-divorced mother—are not only toxic, but viperishly dangerous to Blake and now Cassie. Everyone in Lochsa County, from Sheriff Ben Wagy on down, is in their pockets, and everyone Cassie talks to, from the Kleinsassers to the local law, finds new ways to make her life miserable. But Cassie, an ex-cop single mother, isn’t one to back down, especially since she wonders why anyone would take all the trouble to stop an investigation of a case that was as rock-solid as this one’s supposed to be.

An appealing new heroine, a fast-moving plot, and a memorably nightmarish family make this one of Box’s best.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-05105-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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