CIRCLES OF DEATH

Two mysteries plotted with an eye for the details of both subjects set this series apart.

After genetic testing suggests that a young woman’s family may not be who they say they are, her investigation into the past is interrupted by a local wildlife emergency.

Twenty-seven years ago, a young mother on the Eastern Shore of Maryland chose to place her infant on a minister’s doorstep rather than let the baby be sold by her cruel partner to “a loathsome couple from Baltimore.” After leaving the baby with only a note reading “My name is Noel,” the girl vanished into the night. In the present day, Noel Sinclair runs into Hannah Ives, whose grandchildren she used to babysit. Hannah says she’s been busy “building family trees from DNA data that’s been uploaded to recreational databases like Ancestry, 23andMe and GenTree” to help the police solve crimes. Noel soon shares the results of a recent DNA test she and her sister both took, which suggest that they aren’t even remotely related. Given her knack for diligent investigation, Hannah wants to help Noel figure out what’s going on, so she dives into the rabbit hole that is genealogical research. The two women also spend time catching up with each other at Our Song, the vacation cottage Hannah recently bought with her husband. As Hannah shows Noel some bald eagles there, the women spot a set of birds that seem to have gotten sick from eating a dead fox. But when they bring the birds to Hoots, the local bird rescue, it begins to look like someone deliberately poisoned the fox with carbofuran and that the birds may have died as a result. Now that Hannah and Noel are focusing on the question of who might want to poison local wildlife, Hannah leads the investigative charge with her meticulous research and ability to fly under the radar, hoping, like Noel, to find a happy resolution before more animals become victims.

Two mysteries plotted with an eye for the details of both subjects set this series apart.

Pub Date: March 5, 2024

ISBN: 9781448307975

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Severn House

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2024

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

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

Close Quickview