What’s most memorable about these twin blasts from the past is Oates’ mastery of distinctly different flavors of nightmare,...

THE TRIUMPH OF THE SPIDER MONKEY

A reprint of a minor novella first published in 1976 that’s still a full-blown freak show of serial murder, psychological self-torment, and literal disintegration.

Ever since he was plucked from inside a locker in a New York bus terminal shortly after his birth in 1944, Bobbie Gotteson, aka the Maniac, has shattered expectations, and not in a good way. He’s traveled the country as a singer and songwriter, screen-tested (or maybe not: the putative studio denies it, and no footage has survived) for a movie role, and spent considerable time in prison. Now, put on trial for one of nine murders, more or less, he’s accused of committing, he lets it all hang out, recalling his relationships with Melva, whose son he’s been mistaken for; Danny Minx, his rapist and protector in stir; Baby Sharleen, who killed herself before she could testify against him; and a host of wraithlike women who drift in and out of his consciousness. “Consciousness,” in fact, may be too definite a term for Bobbie’s monologue, which persistently tramples on the distinctions between inside and outside, laughing and screaming, guitars and machetes, Jesus and Satan, first and third person, and the sanity Bobbie claims and the madness he acknowledges. A straight-faced footnote announces early on that “all remarks in this strange document are the Maniac’s, even those he attributes to the ‘court’ and to other people.” Oates (My Life as a Rat, 2019, etc.) withholds the gruesome details of Bobbie’s butchery; the defiant confession of this fictional counterpart of Charles Manson is horrific, often carnivalesque, but never salacious or sensationalistic. As a bonus, this edition includes Love, Careless Love, a sequel of sorts that traces the doomed bond that forms between Dewalene, a young woman still traumatized by her encounter with Bobbie, and Jules, the disturbed young man hired for unknown reasons to keep an eye on her.

What’s most memorable about these twin blasts from the past is Oates’ mastery of distinctly different flavors of nightmare, from the surreal to the flat-out demented.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-78565-677-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Hard Case Crime

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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