Despite occasional moments of eloquence, the story—burdened by incensed, rambling speeches and half-realized...

A Quiet Resignation

Still harboring bitter rage at a bully from his school years, a university professor concocts an elaborate, violent plan to ruin his nemesis’ life.

Charlie Springbank tormented many people during his youth. A popular football player, he beat up many other boys and disgraced several of the girls. However, as the story’s unnamed narrator notes with glee, Charlie’s success diminished after graduation, thanks to a failed football career at Boston College and an unhappy marriage to the Boston police chief’s daughter. The narrator, meanwhile, found success and some happiness in his own marriage and career as a university professor. But, in a most unpleasant way, he’s pushed over the edge after witnessing Charlie urinate through an open window of his beloved sports car. In a series of passionate monologues interrupted only by brief dialogues, he slowly unveils a murderous scheme to destroy Charlie—and take out some of the city’s more unseemly characters—through a plan he dubs “The Masterwork.” Initially, the book calls to mind the amusing, endearing self-aggrandizement of Frederick Exley’s A Fan's Notes. Unfortunately, it morphs into a series of manifestos that mix clever, vivid turns of phrase with furious, often bizarre rants about people the narrator doesn’t like: Charlie, President Obama and “ivory tower” professors, to name just a few. The story borders on satire, with the narrator waxing poetically about everyone else’s flaws as the body count grows. Yet the more he verbally skewers Charlie and the other targets of his anger, the more the story falls victim to telling rather than showing. The author possesses a mouth-watering flair for describing food and beer, but that talent doesn’t extend to locations (Boston settings are listed without much identification beyond street names) or characters (with the exception of Charlie, they fill caricatured roles and hold vapid, stilted dialogues). While the story starts out intriguingly, the narrator’s raging displeasure and smarmy self-congratulatory attitude ultimately hold it hostage, leaving behind a tale that loves its own voice a little too much.

Despite occasional moments of eloquence, the story—burdened by incensed, rambling speeches and half-realized characters—falls short.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 205

Publisher: Evergreen Umbrella

Review Posted Online: Oct. 24, 2020

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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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