Muñoz has upended the conventional crime novel, lauding a cinematic master while downplaying his own crime scene and...



What’s Hitchcock’s Psycho got to do with a murder in a small California city? Not much, but the friction between them drives this refreshingly innovative first novel. 

Muñoz returns to the Valley, the setting of his fine story collection The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue (2007): Bakersfield, 1959. Dan Watson is the handsomest guy in town. His mother Arlene is a waitress and motel owner. Dan is seen around with a Mexican store clerk. With his encouragement, she sings under a spotlight at a cantina. Then, shockingly, it’s all over. Teresa (we learn her name from the cemetery marker) is found battered to death outside her apartment, and Dan is a fugitive from justice. Cut to the Actress (an unnamed Janet Leigh) in Bakersfield for some exterior shots. She’s thinking about her character, a love-struck secretary who’s stolen money to facilitate her affair. Can she retain audience sympathy? It’s a strait-laced era, and Muñoz captures it brilliantly, as he progresses to the notorious shower scene while constantly circling back to the Bakersfield murder. What’s striking is the pinpoint clarity of the Actress’s death (the silhouette behind the shower curtain; the knife; the scream) compared to the details of Teresa’s murder, a blurry conjecture. While Hollywood fabricates stories every day, gossipy Bakersfield is no slouch either: If you don’t know the story, make it up. Muñoz follows behind to set the record straight. He leaves Tom as a silhouette. Teresa we get to know better; she dismisses a humble Mexican suitor, dazzled by Tom and her first glimpse of show business. However, it is Arlene who takes center stage. The climax comes when she surprises Tom making his post-murder getaway. What does it mean to be the mother of a killer? Drawing on his compassion for the beaten down, the author provides an unbearably poignant answer. 

Muñoz has upended the conventional crime novel, lauding a cinematic master while downplaying his own crime scene and concentrating on a secondary victim. Nice work.

Pub Date: March 29, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-56512-533-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2011

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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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