An intriguing literary mystery mixing fact and fiction.

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THE DEATH INSTINCT

Terrorism, political conspiracies and financial shenanigans combine in the latest from Rubenfeld (The Interpretation of Murder, 2006, etc.).

The year is 1920, and it's a beautiful September day in New York City. Dr. Stratham Younger and Captain James Littlemore are escorting Colette Rousseau to lunch. Younger is a physician, a jaded veteran of the killing fields of World War I. Rousseau is a radiochemist, a technician trained by Madame Curie to use portable X-ray machines on the battlefields to diagnose the wounded. Suddenly a bomb explodes on Wall Street. Dozens are dead and hundreds are wounded. Littlemore is a police detective, and soon he and his friends are caught up in the mystery. The Federal Government blames anarchists. Thomas Lamont of J.P. Morgan Bank links the explosion to a banking embargo against Mexico. That evening Rousseau and Luc, her young brother, are mysteriously, briefly kidnapped. Rousseau then convinces Younger to sail with her to Europe to seek help from Dr. Sigmund Freud for Luc, mute since witnessing German soldiers murder his parents. There are hints of a romance between Younger and Rousseau, but Rousseau is worried about her brother, and she's also determined to find a former German soldier from her past. History buffs will enjoy Rubenfeld's introductions to assorted characters—Marie Curie, Serb assassins and movers-and-shakers from Woodrow Wilson's cabinet. Adding political and financial corruption to uncover, manipulators to expose and a war with Mexico to prevent might make the plot seem too complex, but no loose end is left untied, and only one or two insignificant anachronisms should trouble the most sophisticated reader.

An intriguing literary mystery mixing fact and fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 20, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-59448-782-8

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2010

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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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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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