The plot runs a bit amok, but Rowland’s Victorian London is fascinating and her team of irregulars unmatched.

PORTRAIT OF PERIL

Why go on a honeymoon when there’s a murderer to catch?

October 1890. The wedding of London crime-scene photographer Sarah Bain and DS Thomas Barrett is interrupted by the discovery of a body in the crypt of St. Peter’s Church. The victim, Charles Firth, has been stabbed in the chest. Sarah’s granted a leave of absence by Sir Gerald Mariner, her boss at the Daily World, to investigate. Her team includes street-wise teenager Mick O’Reilly and her closest friend Lord Hugh Staunton, whose homosexuality has estranged him from his family. Firth specialized in photographing ghosts; when Sarah visits his widow, Leonora, she’s in the process of contacting the dead. One of her friends advises her to help Sarah: “We have to rule out the possibility that the killer is human.” As in Sarah’s first four cases, Rowland’s knack for drollery and colorful characters is on full display. Strangely, the Firths are connected to a case Sarah’s been trying to solve for years: the wrongful conviction of her father, now a fugitive, for a crime committed by her estranged mother. Firth’s Society for Psychical Studies is virulently opposed by the Ladies’ Society for Rational Thought. When Hugh inexplicably disappears and a prominent member of one group is murdered, the probe takes on special urgency.

The plot runs a bit amok, but Rowland’s Victorian London is fascinating and her team of irregulars unmatched.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64385-472-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crooked Lane

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 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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A muted yet thrilling multilayered mystery enriched by keen psychological and emotional insight.

WHEN THE STARS GO DARK

A San Francisco homicide detective traumatized by personal tragedy and the many horrors she's encountered returns to Mendocino, once her childhood sanctuary, only to be drawn into the case of a missing girl and the unresolved mysteries of her own past.

“For as long as I could remember, I’d had reasons to disappear,” Anna Hart muses. “I was an expert at making myself invisible.” Orphaned at 8 and reared in a series of foster homes, this police detective has an unwavering commitment to the cases of missing and murdered children and an uncanny “radar for victims.” Then her own family is shattered by a death she might have prevented. Anna flees to Mendocino, where a foster family once provided not only love, but also survival lessons and where Anna agrees to help a local sheriff—also a childhood friend—as he investigates the case of a teenage girl who seems to have been abducted. But the disappearance of Cameron Curtis recalls for Anna a more distant Mendocino mystery: the vanishing of a childhood friend of hers in 1972. And when two more girls are abducted shortly after Cameron—one of them the real-life Polly Klaas—the stage seems set for a predictable serial killer hunt. But McLain largely avoids that well-trodden path to craft instead a psychological thriller that deftly evokes both the entrancing landscape of the Mendocino hills and the rough terrain of shattered lives. “No one can save anyone,” the haunted Anna laments at the outset, but the novel’s convincing outcome, while grimly realistic, permits her to think otherwise. Most memorable of all are the girls, past and present, who emerge here not as convenient victims but as vulnerable, believable characters.

A muted yet thrilling multilayered mystery enriched by keen psychological and emotional insight.

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-23789-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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