A deftly crafted tale of an absorbing character in dire straits; readers will be pulling for Rebecca Plotnik.

NEON DREAMS

The grinding tribulations of a promising young woman breaking from the bad habits sewn by her upbringing.

Mufson introduces readers to Rebecca Plotnik, home after college, in the early 1960s, living with her parents in Las Vegas. Her dreams of an acting career in New York City are busily thwarted by her discouraging mother, her gambling-addicted father and her insecurities. Neon may be blinking in the streets, but Rebecca’s world is pure noir, a shadow land of enfeeblement, asymmetry and an identity in vertigo, freighted with the banality of her everyday woes and the desperation of finding the right somebody to lift her from her emotional flux and head eastward. A biting, chromatic portrait of Las Vegas in the ’60s alternates with Mufson’s sure hand that allows Rebecca to make one bad choice after another, falling for men who are too good to be true—one with charm enough to coax a hungry dog off a meat wagon, another not “merely handsome. He was Art.”—but just this side of believable to make us fall for them as well. She is also artful with the quality of the book’s creepiness—when her father introduces Rebecca to his gang, she says, “I pictured convicts breaking up rocks…I felt like a stripper in a graveyard”; her drop-dead-gorgeous boyfriend Alex’s relationship with his mother is a mix of Oedipus, sunglasses and a vodka martini or three (winningly, Alex’s siblings have figured out his degenerate ways—“So bohemian,” says Rebecca. “Gets pretty boring after a while,” says Alex’s step-brother.) Rebecca may be enslaved to fattening foods and her mother’s admonitions, but she is also a smart cookie, with a worldly eye that knows the difference between Middlemarch and Marjorie Morningstar, and Mufson lets Rebecca’s English professor nail her to the cross—“You may have done your best to turn in a shitty paper, as you called it, but your writing still showed promise—a series of brilliant starts that went nowhere.”

A deftly crafted tale of an absorbing character in dire straits; readers will be pulling for Rebecca Plotnik.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2011

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2011

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

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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