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MURDER IN THIRD POSITION

From the An On Pointe Mystery series , Vol. 3

A highly entertaining whodunit with a twisty plot and plenty of biting ballet intrigue.

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    Best Books Of 2023

A prima ballerina investigates a homicide by dangerous stage prop in this rollicking mystery.

Robbins’ third On Pointe yarn finds Leah Siderova, the aging, sore-kneed ballerina of New York City’s American Ballet Company, enmeshed in yet another murder at the world’s deadliest dance troupe. The victim this time is artist and set designer Maurice Kaminsky, who built a rickety escalator for Leah to ascend when she dances the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker. Maurice turns up mangled to death in the contraption’s gears. Suspects include Maurice’s husband, Brett, the company’s domineering choreographer; Tex, Leah’s dance partner, who may have been sleeping with the victim; a filmmaker who was shooting a documentary about the designer; Maurice’s art dealer, who stands to gain from the inflation of his paintings’ prices; and Victor Roth, a wolfishly charming lawyer. Assisting Leah is her posse of amateur detectives, including her crime writer mother, Barbara; her Aunt Rachel; the dancer’s cagey Russian ballet coach, Madame Maksimova; and Olga Shevchenko, Madame’s friend, who may be in the Russian mob. Along the way, Leah juggles relationships with hunky emergency room doctor Zach Mitchell and Jonah Sobol, the sexy but poker-faced police detective assigned to the case. When another body plummets from the sky, Leah fears that she might be the killer’s next target. Robbins, a former ballerina, steeps the novel in the glamorous grunge of the dance world as Leah nurses her aching body, obsessively counts the calories in every spinach leaf, dodges a too-familiar donor, and fences with her (metaphorically) back-stabbing rival, Kerry Blair. The author stocks the story with sharply etched characters and deploys vast schools of red herring to keep readers guessing as Leah and her pals ponder every possible perpetrator. Robbins renders this well-observed zoo in lively prose that weaves between catty humor—“When I dance Juliet’s death scene, there won’t be a dry eye in the house. If you get top billing, there won’t be a dry eye at the box office”—and bloody mayhem. (“His head lay at an odd angle, and he had four severe cuts, one on his face and three across his chest. Glitter from the set was mixed in with the blood.”) The result is a suspenseful romp with loads of atmosphere.

A highly entertaining whodunit with a twisty plot and plenty of biting ballet intrigue.

Pub Date: Nov. 22, 2022

ISBN: 9781685121969

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Level Best Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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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EVERYONE IN MY FAMILY HAS KILLED SOMEONE

This book and its author are cleverer than you and want you to know it.

In this mystery, the narrator constantly adds commentary on how the story is constructed.

In 1929, during the golden age of mysteries, a (real-life) writer named Ronald Knox published the “10 Commandments of Detective Fiction,” 10 rules that mystery writers should obey in order to “play fair.” When faced with his own mystery story, our narrator, an author named Ernest Cunningham who "write[s] books about how to write books," feels like he must follow these rules himself. The story seemingly begins on the night his brother Michael calls to ask him to help bury a body—and shows up with the body and a bag containing $267,000. Fast-forward three years, and Ernie’s family has gathered at a ski resort to celebrate Michael’s release from prison. The family dynamics are, to put it lightly, complicated—and that’s before a man shows up dead in the snow and Michael arrives with a coffin in a truck. When the local cop arrests Michael for the murder, things get even more complicated: There are more deaths; Michael tells a story about a coverup involving their father, who was part of a gang called the Sabers; and Ernie still has (most of) the money and isn’t sure whom to trust or what to do with it. Eventually, Ernie puts all the pieces together and gathers the (remaining) family members and various extras for the great denouement. As the plot develops, it becomes clear that there’s a pretty interesting mystery at the heart of this novel, but Stevenson’s postmodern style has Ernie constantly breaking the fourth wall to explain how the structure of his story meets the criteria for a successful detective story. Some readers are drawn to mysteries because they love the formula and logic—this one’s for them. If you like the slow, sometimes-creepy, sometimes-comforting unspooling of a good mystery, it might not be your cup of tea—though the ending, to be fair, is still something of a surprise.

This book and its author are cleverer than you and want you to know it.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-06-327902-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Mariner Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2022

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