Ambitious, effortful, acutely researched—but lithe it isn’t, with portent equal to content

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AUDUBON’S WATCH

Brown (The Wrecked, Blessed Body of Shelton Lafleur, 1996, etc.) takes Audubon to New Orleans in 1821, where a dark experience marks him for 30 years—though it may do less to a reader.

At 36, Audubon is married with two sons—but as yet no artistic success. Off he goes downriver (from his then-home in Ohio) to make his fortune as a bird-artist—and is approached by a gorgeous, unnamed woman who asks if he’ll draw her—in the buff. All right, except that when this liberated lady comes over—in the buff—to have a look behind the easel, Audubon can help himself no longer and falls upon her, though matters aren’t completed before she hastens away into the night. Who could she have been? Just imagine Audubon’s discomfiture when later, at the luxe sugar-cane plantation where he tutors the planter’s teenaged daughter (a minx), family friend Dr. Emile Gautreaux arrives for a visit with his wife Myra, who—is the naked woman! Worse, Myra then very suddenly dies, and the addled Audubon is coerced into staying up all night with Gautreaux, sitting by the body. The story is recollected—by Audubon and Gautreaux in turns—years later, when the dying Audubon calls Gautreaux to his bedside. As he travels toward Audubon, Gautreaux thinks about the past, and Audubon does the same in his bed (“speaking” to his two daughters, both dead since infancy). Much is parallel between the two men, both being scientist-artists in search of nature’s “truth” (a scholar of anatomy, Gautraux was fiercely maligned for using cadavers). If there’s doubt that they’ll find the “truth” of Myra’s death (was she murdered?), there’s none at all that Brown’s symbols are heavy (a hurricane, Audubon’s birds, Gautraux’s wife) and his language archaically elevated (“Perhaps you know already the perplexing intoxication of desire, its fearful might”).

Ambitious, effortful, acutely researched—but lithe it isn’t, with portent equal to content

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2001

ISBN: 0-395-78607-X

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

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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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The racism, classism, and sexism of 50 years ago wrapped up in a stylish, sexy, suspenseful period drama about a newsroom...

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LADY IN THE LAKE

Baltimore in the 1960s is the setting for this historical fiction about a real-life unsolved drowning.

In her most ambitious work to date, Lippman (Sunburn, 2018, etc.) tells the story of Maddie Schwartz, an attractive 37-year-old Jewish housewife who abruptly leaves her husband and son to pursue a long-held ambition to be a journalist, and Cleo Sherwood, an African-American cocktail waitress about whom little is known. Sherwood's body was found in a lake in a city park months after she disappeared, and while no one else seems to care enough to investigate, Maddie becomes obsessed—partly due to certain similarities she perceives between her life and Cleo's, partly due to her faith in her own detective skills. The story unfolds from Maddie's point of view as well as that of Cleo's ghost, who seems to be watching from behind the scenes, commenting acerbically on Maddie's nosing around like a bull in a china shop after getting a job at one of the city papers. Added to these are a chorus of Baltimore characters who make vivid one-time appearances: a jewelry store clerk, an about-to-be-murdered schoolgirl, "Mr. Helpline," a bartender, a political operative, a waitress, a Baltimore Oriole, the first African-American female policewoman (these last two are based on real people), and many more. Maddie's ambition propels her forward despite the cost to others, including the family of the deceased and her own secret lover, a black policeman. Lippman's high-def depiction of 1960s Baltimore and the atmosphere of the newsroom at that time—she interviewed associates of her father, Baltimore Sun journalist Theo Lippman Jr., for the details—ground the book in fascinating historical fact.The literary gambit she balances atop that foundation—the collage of voices—works impressively, showcasing the author's gift for rhythms of speech. The story is bigger than the crime, and the crime is bigger than its solution, making Lippman's skill as a mystery novelist work as icing on the cake.

The racism, classism, and sexism of 50 years ago wrapped up in a stylish, sexy, suspenseful period drama about a newsroom and the city it covers.

Pub Date: July 23, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-239001-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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