THE DONUT LEGION

Don’t worry: Lansdale will surely be back next year with something more welcomely earthbound.

Lansdale takes a break from his loopy tales of Hap and Leonard for an East Texas story that’s much, much weirder.

It begins straightforwardly enough: Charlie Garner’s ex-wife, Meg, drops in at his isolated home in the dead of night to ask his help in dealing with the death, possibly the murder, of her husband, Ethan Phillips. As a former cop and former PI, she argues he’s just the person to investigate. Charlie, who’s identified as a writer for a while now, is reluctant, but before he has to decide, Meg vanishes, along with the tracks her car must have left in his driveway. Baffled and troubled, Charlie turns to Felix Garner, the older brother who took over his detective agency even though it paid less well than practicing psychiatry, and together they decide to break into Meg and Ethan’s apartment, where the police duly arrest them. Rescued by Felix’s girlfriend, whip-smart attorney Cherry Shires, they soon find themselves seeking the truth about the Saucer People, a cabal of UFO fans whose numbers included Meg, and the Donut Legion, whose head Manager, a seriously bad dude called Cowboy, is best known for his companion, Mr. Biggs the chimpanzee. The trail to the truth is enlivened by Charlie’s fling with Amelia Moon, whose friends call her Scrappy, and littered with corpses, some shot, some stabbed, some stacked up in freezers. Despite dollops of Lansdale’s trademark off-speed humor, the otherworldly aspects of the mystery are seriously muddled, and the whodunit, which might better be labeled a whathappened, is seriously disappointing.

Don’t worry: Lansdale will surely be back next year with something more welcomely earthbound.

Pub Date: March 21, 2023

ISBN: 9780316540681

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2023

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

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. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

EVERYONE IN MY FAMILY HAS KILLED SOMEONE

This book and its author are cleverer than you and want you to know it.

In this mystery, the narrator constantly adds commentary on how the story is constructed.

In 1929, during the golden age of mysteries, a (real-life) writer named Ronald Knox published the “10 Commandments of Detective Fiction,” 10 rules that mystery writers should obey in order to “play fair.” When faced with his own mystery story, our narrator, an author named Ernest Cunningham who "write[s] books about how to write books," feels like he must follow these rules himself. The story seemingly begins on the night his brother Michael calls to ask him to help bury a body—and shows up with the body and a bag containing $267,000. Fast-forward three years, and Ernie’s family has gathered at a ski resort to celebrate Michael’s release from prison. The family dynamics are, to put it lightly, complicated—and that’s before a man shows up dead in the snow and Michael arrives with a coffin in a truck. When the local cop arrests Michael for the murder, things get even more complicated: There are more deaths; Michael tells a story about a coverup involving their father, who was part of a gang called the Sabers; and Ernie still has (most of) the money and isn’t sure whom to trust or what to do with it. Eventually, Ernie puts all the pieces together and gathers the (remaining) family members and various extras for the great denouement. As the plot develops, it becomes clear that there’s a pretty interesting mystery at the heart of this novel, but Stevenson’s postmodern style has Ernie constantly breaking the fourth wall to explain how the structure of his story meets the criteria for a successful detective story. Some readers are drawn to mysteries because they love the formula and logic—this one’s for them. If you like the slow, sometimes-creepy, sometimes-comforting unspooling of a good mystery, it might not be your cup of tea—though the ending, to be fair, is still something of a surprise.

This book and its author are cleverer than you and want you to know it.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-06-327902-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Mariner Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2022

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