An avalanche of portentous symbols, allusions, and tufa, tufa, tufa.


A cultural anthropologist journeys to a village in southern Italy to explore the hell of “sassi” (cave dwellings) and of his own desires.

Sasso unfolds as a long letter the narrator writes to his pregnant girlfriend in New York City. Hauling the baggage of uncertain careers and troubled relationships, he and three others have come to Mancanzano to study the brilliant frescoes in a warren of prehistoric cave dwellings. Adorned by angels and saints, the frescoes now look down upon two dead, naked teenagers. Their teeth are chipped, their faces lacerated, the insides of their mouths caked with tufa, the porous, cool stone that turns up everywhere in Mancanzano (and, it seems, on nearly every page of this first novel). Ground up, the magical and medicinal stone becomes, variously, a talc that soaks up sweat or a dietary supplement that, if overused, turns into cement. Scraping away at the frescoes, the team uncovers images of bleeding cherubim and dead, gashed, nude humans. More teenagers, then dogs, turn up dead in the caves. Compiling an oral history of Mancanzano, the narrator finds his encounters turning equally dark. An old woman tells of going blind from staring at the sun for a vision of the Madonna. An old man exposes his flaccid genitals, then asks the narrator to hold him. Complying, the narrator supports the man as he defecates. In thrall to the violent and sensual life around him, the narrator begins a passionate affair with a young girl named Philippa,. Hinting that she may be pregnant, she reviles the narrator. The two begin hurling abuse at each other like lumps of tufa. Soon on trial for her murder, the narrator writes to his fiancée, expressing hope that his child will “understand the power of stone” in New York, “a city that is also composed of cells.”

An avalanche of portentous symbols, allusions, and tufa, tufa, tufa.

Pub Date: April 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-8027-3372-7

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2002

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.


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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No wonder Scarpetta asks, “When did my workplace become such a soap opera?” Answer: at least 10 years ago.


Happy birthday, Dr. Kay Scarpetta. But no Florida vacation for you and your husband, FBI profiler Benton Wesley—not because President Barack Obama is visiting Cambridge, but because a deranged sniper has come to town.

Shortly after everyone’s favorite forensic pathologist (Dust, 2013, etc.) receives a sinister email from a correspondent dubbed Copperhead, she goes outside to find seven pennies—all polished, all turned heads-up, all dated 1981—on her garden wall. Clearly there’s trouble afoot, though she’s not sure what form it will take until five minutes later, when a call from her old friend and former employee Pete Marino, now a detective with the Cambridge Police, summons her to the scene of a shooting. Jamal Nari was a high school music teacher who became a minor celebrity when his name was mistakenly placed on a terrorist watch list; he claimed government persecution, and he ended up having a beer with the president. Now he’s in the news for quite a different reason. Bizarrely, the first tweets announcing his death seem to have preceded it by 45 minutes. And Leo Gantz, a student at Nari’s school, has confessed to his murder, even though he couldn’t possibly have done it. But these complications are only the prelude to a banquet of homicide past and present, as Scarpetta and Marino realize when they link Nari’s murder to a series of killings in New Jersey. For a while, the peripheral presence of the president makes you wonder if this will be the case that finally takes the primary focus off the investigator’s private life. But most of the characters are members of Scarpetta’s entourage, the main conflicts involve infighting among the regulars, and the killer turns out to be a familiar nemesis Scarpetta thought she’d left for dead several installments back. As if.

No wonder Scarpetta asks, “When did my workplace become such a soap opera?” Answer: at least 10 years ago.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-232534-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 23, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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