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KAROLINA AND THE TORN CURTAIN

A gravely decorous period piece that vividly evokes its moment while maintaining an archly amused distance from it.

Murder strikes much too close to home for sleuthing socialite Zofia Turbotyńska.

Called to the beach below the Rożnowski Villa one April morning in 1895, Cracow police commissioner Stanislaw Jednoróg finds the body of a young woman who’s been stabbed to death. The victim is Karolina Szulc, Zofia’s virginal 17-year-old housemaid, who abruptly quit the day before to leave town in the company of the man who’d swept her off her feet even though she already had another suitor. Angry and sad, Zofia presses her cook, Franciszka Gawęda, to dig up evidence of the new sweetheart’s name, and Franciszka obliges by finding a business card that identifies him as engineer Marceli Bzowski. When Zofia, already shaken by the suicide of Brazilian José Silva the morning after Karolina’s death, confronts Bzowski in the full fury of her righteousness, the engineer, who’s married, swears that he wasn’t the man in question; an entire case of his business cards must have been stolen during his last trip to the Rózana Street brothel run by Madame Olesia Dunin. Following this clue leads Zofia to focus her investigation on a trafficking ring whose boundaries far exceed Rózana Street, Cracow, and Poland. Pseudonymous partners Jacek Dehnel and Piotr Tarczyński bring both the do-gooders and the criminals of fin-de-siècle Cracow to entertaining life, but their deepest interest is in the unlikely detective lurking beneath “the sedate Mrs. Jekyll”: “the hidden Mrs. Hyde, the fearless stalker of criminals.”

A gravely decorous period piece that vividly evokes its moment while maintaining an archly amused distance from it.

Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-358-15757-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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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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