Not every story will be to every taste, but the average is high enough to satisfy readers of all genders.

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CUTTING EDGE

“Is there a distinctive female noir?” asks Oates (The Pursuit, 2019, etc.) in her introduction. This collection may not settle that question, but it goes a long way toward supplying candidates for an emerging canon.

There are 15 stories here, all but one of them new, and half a dozen new poems. From Aimee Bender’s enigmatic “Firetown,” in which a female private eye searches for a missing husband and cat on behalf of a client whose motives are even more mysterious than the disappearance, to Cassandra Khaw’s fablelike “Mothers, We Dream,” in which the man who’s miraculously survived a shipwreck finds himself hemmed in by both his female interrogator and his female associates, these stories show empowered women either running roughshod over men or ignoring them entirely. Even the heroines of Livia Llewellyn’s “One of These Nights,” S.J. Rozan’s “A History of the World in Five Objects,” S.A. Solomon’s “Impala,” and Sheila Kohler’s “Miss Martin,” all victims of abusive men, find unexpected ways to transform their victimhood into violent agency. Lisa Lim’s heavily illustrated “The Hunger” dramatizes a savage mode of female mourning; Edwidge Danticat’s “Please Translate,” first published in 2014, collects 41 frantic phone messages from a woman to the husband who’s run off with their son; Margaret Atwood’s six poems include meditations on female werewolves and the maternal side of the Sirens; Oates’ own “Assassin” follows a woman who methodically hatches and executes a plan to decapitate the prime minister. The women here are equally comfortable—that is, equally disturbing—when they’re cast as reluctant detectives, as in Steph Cha’s “Thief,” witnesses to possible crimes, as in Elizabeth McCracken’s “An Early Specimen,” accused murderers, as in Valerie Martin’s “Il Grifone,” or potential healers, as in Lucy Taylor’s “Too Many Lunatics” and Jennifer Morales’ “The Boy Without a Bike.” The punchline of the one story with a male lead, Bernice L. McFadden’s “OBF, Inc.,” entirely justifies its outlier status.

Not every story will be to every taste, but the average is high enough to satisfy readers of all genders.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61775-762-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Akashic

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 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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