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

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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A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be...

BADLANDS

Box takes another break from his highly successful Joe Pickett series (Stone Cold, 2014, etc.) for a stand-alone about a police detective, a developmentally delayed boy, and a package everyone in North Dakota wants to grab.

Cassandra Dewell can’t leave Montana’s Lewis and Clark County fast enough for her new job as chief investigator for Jon Kirkbride, sheriff of Bakken County. She leaves behind no memories worth keeping: her husband is dead, her boss has made no bones about disliking her, and she’s looking forward to new responsibilities and the higher salary underwritten by North Dakota’s sudden oil boom. But Bakken County has its own issues. For one thing, it’s cold—a whole lot colder than the coldest weather Cassie’s ever imagined. For another, the job she turns out to have been hired for—leading an investigation her new boss doesn’t feel he can entrust to his own force—makes her queasy. The biggest problem, though, is one she doesn’t know about until it slaps her in the face. A fatal car accident that was anything but accidental has jarred loose a stash of methamphetamines and cash that’s become the center of a battle between the Sons of Freedom, Bakken County’s traditional drug sellers, and MS-13, the Salvadorian upstarts who are muscling in on their territory. It’s a setup that leaves scant room for law enforcement officers or for Kyle Westergaard, the 12-year-old paperboy damaged since birth by fetal alcohol syndrome, who’s walked away from the wreck with a prize all too many people would kill for.

A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be welcome to return and tie up the gaping loose end Box leaves. The unrelenting cold makes this the perfect beach read.

Pub Date: July 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-58321-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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