The answers to these questions, though certainly disturbing, are so obvious that most readers will see them coming from far...

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THE WHISPERER

A familiar damsel-in-distress story veers off script into territory that would be too dark for almost anyone but Fossum (Hell Fire, 2016, etc.).

Kirkelina shop clerk Ragna Riegel was born to be hurt. An only child whose parents died years ago, she was too unattractive even as a teenager to appeal to most men, and her seduction by much older photographer Walther Eriksson, long since departed for Stockholm, left her on her own to raise a son, Rikard Josef, who took off for Berlin as soon as he possibly could. Over the years, Ragna has comforted herself by fantasizing about her son’s professional success as chief manager at the upscale hotel Dormero as she’s waited for the annual Christmas cards that are her only other link to his present-day life. In the meantime, a botched operation on her throat reduced her voice to a whisper, alienating her from the world even further. An even nastier chapter in her sad life opens with an anonymous letter that warns her: “YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.” Ragna disposes of the letter as briskly as if that disposed of the problem, but others soon follow: “IT’S NOT LONG NOW,” “I’M WATCHING YOU,” “NO ONE WILL HEAR YOU.” A series of intercut chapters shows Ragna, whose frantic calls to the police have been deflected by anodyne responses, conversing with series regular Inspector Konrad Sejer, who finally offers her sympathy and understanding. It gradually becomes clear, however, that Sejer regards Ragna not as the potential victim of a crime but as a criminal herself. But not much else is clear at all. What can this gentle, frightened woman have done to break the law, and what on Earth could have led her to do so?

The answers to these questions, though certainly disturbing, are so obvious that most readers will see them coming from far off, turning this mystery into an extended exercise in dramatic irony. The moving, late-blooming relationship between mother and son adds a welcome note of grace.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-328-61419-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 13, 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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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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