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MURDER AT THE SPELLING BEE

For all those readers—and only those readers—who loved the drama that is middle school.

An unpleasant teacher gets what’s coming to her when her Maine school district hosts a spelling bee.

The South Portland Middle School Spelling Bee is everything you hated about school. There’s unending memorization of information useless to anyone with a computer. There’s competition. The parents are frantic. The students are at each other’s throats. It gets so bad that Lucia and Eugenio Fanelli hire a pair of private eyes, Maya Kendrick and Sandra Wallage, to find out who left a note saying Drop out or die in their son Rocco’s locker. Maya and Sandra have their own baggage. Maya’s husband, the former police chief, is just finishing a stint in prison for corruption, and Sandra’s husband, the current U.S. senator from Maine, is in the process of divorcing her. But a case is a case. Unfortunately, this case quickly turns personal. Ellie Duncan, the volunteer coordinator of the spelling bee, is also the geography teacher at South Portland High School who decided without any evidence that Sandra’s son, Ryan, plagiarized his final paper and plans to flunk him, barring him from graduation. Ellie announces that the last thing she needs is “two gung-ho detectives running around upsetting the parents and scaring the kids and spoiling everything.” Ironically, it isn’t Maya and Sandra who spoil the competition; it’s whoever kills the noxious Ellie and stuffs her body in a storage closet. There are plenty of suspects, and before the two sleuths find the real killer, they’ll unearth enough dirty laundry to fill the gym bags of every South Portland student and then some.

For all those readers—and only those readers—who loved the drama that is middle school.

Pub Date: May 21, 2024

ISBN: 9781496736550

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Kensington

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2024

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NONE OF THIS IS TRUE

It's hard to read but hard to look away from.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

When two women who share a birthday meet, a journalist becomes the subject of her own true-crime mystery.

On their 45th birthdays, Josie Fair and Alix Summer meet at a pub and discover they were born not only on the same day, but in the same hospital. Alix is a successful journalist, and Josie convinces Alix that her story is worth telling: Josie met her husband when she was 13 and he was 40. “I can see that maybe I was being used, that maybe I was even being groomed?” she confesses to Alix. “But that feeling of being powerful, right at the start, when I was still in control. I miss that sometimes. I really do. And what I’d like, more than anything, is to get it back.” From this premise Alix creates a Netflix series, Hi! I’m Your Birthday Twin! which investigates Josie’s life as she reconciles what happened to her as a teen and seeks a new path. With the story unfinished, the narrative unfolds in the present tense, with prose that jingles like song lyrics: “He turns to see if the girl is behind him, and sees her wishy-washy, wavy-wavy, in double vision through the glass windows of the hotel.” Alix is both intrigued and repulsed by Josie, but she initially gives her the benefit of the doubt. After all, Alix’s husband, Nathan, has a drinking problem, and Alix knows what it’s like to be reluctant to leave a bad situation. But Josie seems more interested in being part of Alix’s seemingly glamorous life than she is in fixing her own, and when three people end up dead and Alix’s life is turned upside down, the evidence points to Josie—and turns the TV series into a murder mystery. Transcripts from Alix’s interviews alternate with the narrative, offering increasingly varied perspectives on Josie’s story as told by her neighbors, friends, and family members. With so many versions of events, the ending shatters, leaving readers to decide whose is the truth.

It's hard to read but hard to look away from.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2023

ISBN: 9781982179007

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2023

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A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

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. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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