An enjoyable, well-plotted whodunit.

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SHAMUS DUST

In this hard-boiled debut mystery, a private investigator seeks to solve a series of holiday murders.

The year is 1947, and London is still recovering from the devastation of war. Whole city blocks are still full of rubble. Mr. Newman, an American private investigator, responds to a call on Christmas morning from his client Councilor Drake who asks him to investigate an incident at a property he owns. What Newman finds is the body of Raymond Jarrett, a pimp shot dead in a nearby church. Newman is initially suspicious of the nurse who called it in, but soon he’s got plenty of other suspects: a missing university professor and his assistant; a hard-to-find sex worker named Terry Reilly; the abusive father of a young woman who befriended Reilly; and many other characters. Newman quickly finds that many have plenty to hide, and some aren’t too sad about Jarrett’s death, as he ran a blackmail racket involving compromising photos. As the suspects mount, so do the discoveries of dead bodies. Throughout this novel, Roger keeps the reader guessing. She does an especially good job of complicating the motive behind the killings, which at first seems fairly simple but later points to a far larger scheme. The author has a strong command of pace and plot, and the book moves at a good clip, with clues and other bits of information doled out along the way. She’s clearly a student of the hard-boiled masters, with plenty of Raymond Chandler–ian narration. The language is often vivid, clever, and humorous: Regarding a bloodstained coat, Newman says, “Maybe the janitor thought the professor’s Christmas turkey had put up a fight.” Too often, though, Roger goes overboard with the gumshoe poetry, and the meaning gets garbled: “The hull lifted on a creaming pad of bow wave and a trail of fractured blue glass unwound astern for a quarter mile.” But more often than not, the author successfully conjures an old-school detective-story feel: “You never had a wife?” someone asks Newman. “I’d have remembered,” he answers.

An enjoyable, well-plotted whodunit.

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-83859-043-7

Page Count: 376

Publisher: Troubador Publishing Ltd.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 25, 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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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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