An unhurried but gripping mystery, despite a few errors.

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TRAIL OF MADNESS

In Stichter’s (The Water and Murder Flow South, 2016, etc.) latest series thriller, a cold case involving missing high schoolers leads to the discovery of a methodical serial killer.

Investigator Van Vanarsdale has spent the last seven years on an FBI counterterrorism task force. Now back at California’s Orange County Sheriff’s Department, he starts with a few old, unsolved cases. In one, a high school couple, Carlos Fuentes and Cindy Ashae, disappeared near a hiking area after their prom in 1972, with only a burned-out Volkswagen van left behind. Carlos is still missing, but Cindy’s remains later turned up in 1999 in a container buried beneath the school’s time capsule. Previous investigators haven’t made any headway since, but Van’s diligent interviews lead him to a new person of interest: Allison Connors, a former English teacher. She was a noted intellectual and loner who left the school in 1978. Van can’t find a trace of her since her departure, or anything about her before 1963. But her father had a lethal accident in 1966 while hiking on the John Muir Trail, and Van thinks that experienced backpacker Allison could be linked to a number of other nearby disappearances and deaths. However, finding and catching a potential serial killer won’t be easy. Stichter immediately makes readers aware that Allison instigated her father’s accident, but he still delivers a taut mystery. Allison’s back story is otherwise murky, and Van’s investigation unfolds naturally and engagingly, and it takes time before the suspect enters his line of sight. Supporting characters are memorable, even if their primary purpose is simply assisting Van; the best are Sti and Rob, backpacking retirees who help the investigator on the possibly treacherous hiking trail (and who appeared in the author’s previous novels). The geography is fondly detailed throughout with “sporadic rock outcrops” and “intersecting and diverging canyons.” Unfortunately, the story’s timeline has distracting contradictions: victims from 1969, ’76, and ’79 are all later referenced as vanishing or dying in different years.

An unhurried but gripping mystery, despite a few errors.

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5320-3050-5

Page Count: 498

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2018

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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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