A bit over-the-top but still a lot of fun.

THE TENANT

A vicious killer follows a writer’s murderous manuscript to the letter in Danish author Engberg’s U.S. debut.

It’s only been about a year since University of Copenhagen professor Esther de Laurenti retired, and she’s been writing a novel, something she’s always dreamed of. When Esther’s tenant, 21-year-old Julie Stender, is murdered, Esther is shocked. Heading up the investigation is Copenhagen detectives Jeppe Kørner and his partner of eight years, Anette Werner, and it’s proving to be a doozy. The murder was particularly heinous: The killer stabbed Julie and carved strange designs into her face and, frustratingly, seems to have been very careful not to leave any physical evidence at the scene. Of course, as investigators start digging into Julie’s life, they discover some suitably shady secrets in her past, and it’s suggested that one of her boyfriends might have felt scorned enough to resort to murder. Perhaps it was her new boyfriend, who is supposedly a much older, sophisticated man. Too bad nobody knows who he is. When Esther reveals that the details of the murder closely mirror her work in progress, it opens a whole new avenue of investigation, and when Esther attempts to draw the killer out, it puts her firmly in the crosshairs. Engberg’s background as a former dancer and choreographer gives a boost to her considerable flair for the dramatic (keep an eye out for a theatrically staged murder at the Royal Danish Theater) and highlights a strong focus on Copenhagen’s creative community; even Jeppe wanted to be a musician before he became a cop. His fairly recent divorce almost ruined him, and Anette’s upbeat and pragmatic style is no small annoyance to her moody partner, which is played for light comic effect (as is Jeppe’s reawakening libido), leavening the heavier subject matter. Overly familiar plot elements keep this from being a standout, and some twists require a significant suspension of disbelief, but Engberg’s fast-paced narrative is bolstered by an interesting and quirky cast as well as an intriguing setting.

A bit over-the-top but still a lot of fun.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982127-57-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Scout Press/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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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Whitehead continues the African-American artists' inquiry into race mythology and history with rousing audacity and...

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THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD

What if the metaphorical Underground Railroad had been an actual…underground railroad, complete with steam locomotive pulling a “dilapidated box car” along a subterranean nexus of steel tracks?

For roughly its first 60 pages, this novel behaves like a prelude to a slave narrative which is, at once, more jolting and sepulchral than the classic firsthand accounts of William Wells Brown and Solomon Northup. Its protagonist, Cora, is among several African-American men and women enslaved on a Georgia plantation and facing a spectrum of savage indignities to their bodies and souls. A way out materializes in the form of an educated slave named Caesar, who tells her about an underground railroad that can deliver her and others northward to freedom. So far, so familiar. But Whitehead, whose eclectic body of work encompasses novels (Zone One, 2011, etc.) playing fast and loose with “real life,” both past and present, fires his most daring change-up yet by giving the underground railroad physical form. This train conveys Cora, Caesar, and other escapees first to a South Carolina also historically unrecognizable with its skyscrapers and its seemingly, if microscopically, more liberal attitude toward black people. Compared with Georgia, though, the place seems so much easier that Cora and Caesar are tempted to remain, until more sinister plans for the ex-slaves’ destiny reveal themselves. So it’s back on the train and on to several more stops: in North Carolina, where they’ve not only abolished slavery, but are intent on abolishing black people, too; through a barren, more forbidding Tennessee; on to a (seemingly) more hospitable Indiana, and restlessly onward. With each stop, a slave catcher named Ridgeway, dispensing long-winded rationales for his wicked calling, doggedly pursues Cora and her diminishing company of refugees. And with every change of venue, Cora discovers anew that “freedom was a thing that shifted as you looked at it, the way a forest is dense with trees up close but from outside, the empty meadow, you see its true limits.” Imagine a runaway slave novel written with Joseph Heller’s deadpan voice leasing both Frederick Douglass’ grim realities and H.P. Lovecraft’s rococo fantasies…and that’s when you begin to understand how startlingly original this book is.

Whitehead continues the African-American artists' inquiry into race mythology and history with rousing audacity and razor-sharp ingenuity; he is now assuredly a writer of the first rank.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-385-53703-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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