A promising series debut with engaging characters, social commentary, and a Victorian twist on the ever popular...

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THE WAGES OF SIN

Cutler (Guilty as Sin, 2015, etc.) presents two unlikely period sleuths with an unusually freighted missing person case.

Matthew Rowsley is the new land agent for Lord Croft, whose youth and careless attitude do not bode well for his neglected estate. Rowsley’s feeling his way with the suspicious tenants and the upper house staff: Mr. Bowman, the butler; Mrs. Faulkner, the housekeeper; and Mrs. Arden, the cook. Victorian morality is priggish and censorious, and Rowsley, whose parents are an archdeacon and a relatively liberated woman for the times, is appalled at the way the lower classes are treated by their self-appointed betters. When Maggie, one of the younger housemaids, goes missing, the staff is worried, although most of them assume she’s gotten pregnant and run off. Maggie’s mother, who’s squeezed her large family into the gatehouse, disclaims any knowledge of her whereabouts, and since Lord Croft has left suddenly on an extended trip with friends and his mother is also away, Rowsley takes it upon himself to organize a search. As the hunt for the missing maid continues, Rowsley develops an especially close relationship with Mrs. Faulkner, who seems to have secrets of her own. He’s especially unhappy with Theophilus Pounceman, a sanctimonious minister who blames women for leading men into temptation. Rowsley’s prowess on the cricket pitch and his concern for the estate workers earn him some new friendships, and most of them, even the boyfriend Maggie deserted, work to find her. Soon after Rowsley finds a clue to Maggie’s whereabouts, Lord Croft’s new carriage is found smashed and the horses gone, along with Croft and his valet, bringing the police to the estate. Her ladyship, who’s returned home, claims to know nothing, leaving Rowsley and his friends two mysteries to solve.

A promising series debut with engaging characters, social commentary, and a Victorian twist on the ever popular upstairs-downstairs storyline.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7278-8938-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Severn House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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 love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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