Following Bebe Moore Campbell's Your Blues Ain't Like Mine (1992), here's another (and far superior) first novel based on the 1955 Mississippi lynching of the teenager Emmett Till. Nordan, a white Mississippian, has set Till's murder in the freaky fictional world he's created in three story collections (Music of the Swamp, 1991, etc.). Most of Nordan's cast live in Balance Due, ``the white-trash ghetto'' in the town of Arrow Catcher. Foremost among them is Alice Conroy, the young, idealistic, disappointed-in-love fourth-grade teacher who will emerge as the conscience of the white community. Alice is keeping house for Uncle Runt, the town drunk and gravedigger, whose wife has just left him. Close by is robber and wife-beater Solon Gregg: Solon's son tried to set his daddy on fire but burnt himself to a crisp instead. All of these people are shockingly alone, watched over by buzzards ancient enough to have feasted on the Confederate dead. Into this world of lost souls, forever surprised by their thoughts and actions, comes Bobo (Till's actual nickname), down south from Chicago to spend the summer with Uncle and Auntee. For whistling at a white woman, ``a normal and decent testing of adolescent limits in a hopeful world,'' Bobo is murdered by the wretched Solon, an onlooker and hired gun for the woman's husband, a Delta grandee. Alice has had a vision of a dead child in the river but, recognizing ``the futility of magic,'' gone back to sleep. More tragically, Uncle and Auntee recognize even their stouthearted love cannot protect Bobo from the white man's mischief, though Uncle will courageously identify Solon at the trial, which is disrupted by Uncle Runt's African parrot (more futile magic). By showing Till's murder through the scrim of magic realism, Nordan, without blinking at the horror, has allowed his benighted characters a glimpse of transcendence. The result is a high-wire act—of surprising tenderness—that can only enhance Nordan's reputation.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1993

ISBN: 1-56512-028-0

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1993

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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. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Creepy, violent, and propulsive; a standout gothic mystery.


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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