A reckless woman in a spiky story of violence flirts with the possibility of redemption.

THE UNDERNEATH

A musk of sex and menace soaks three narrative strands, expertly braided.

This taut, harrowing novel opens in italics and in the voice of Kay Norton, a cynical white journalist in Uganda having desultory sex and tracking the atrocities of a warlord called General Christmas: “Whatever we printed simply fed his hunger for publicity. He had no insights, he had no grand plan, no sense of justice. He was just another asshole with a gun.” But unlike Finn's tour de force The Gloaming (2016), the bulk of this book lies outside Africa, unspooling in picturesque rural Vermont, where two desperate people are mired: Ben Comeau, a logger/heroin dealer, and Kay, now Kay Ward, ambivalent mother of two certain she smells her husband’s infidelity, imagining his lover “waiting for him in Amsterdam or Dublin, wherever his flight hubbed through. She was issuing a flurry of ardent texts. She was shaving her legs.” Kay has her own distractions, registering Ben: “For she felt the smile, where he aimed it, way down low.” But Kay is more intent on her absent landlord, Frank Wilson, and the creepy totems of violence surrounding her. Finn writes with a phrasing flare on par with Lauren Goff’s: a junkie rests “in the easy hammock of her high”; a mute boy’s unexpected laugh blossoms into “a foreign sound, like a migrant bird blown off course.” The author is excellent at contrasting the snug nature of beauty and horror—the pretty nails of a social worker point out the unspeakable in a child abuse document—even as Finn mines her characters for motives. Kay considers asking General Christmas “about his influences—Marx, Castro, Donald Trump?” Her curiosity and dread drive the novel and move her toward a terrifying denouement. She is at the mercy of a conflicted man who “feels the hissing pleasure of spite: to hurt for hurting’s sake.” Finn puts her readers on the knife’s edge.

A reckless woman in a spiky story of violence flirts with the possibility of redemption.

Pub Date: May 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-937512-69-9

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Two Dollar Radio

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 15

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller

CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

more