Deeply researched and engrossing, this masterful series opener leaves readers hanging—Rats!—so they’ll eagerly await the...

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THE LAST HOURS

With her first full-length novel in 10 years, an award-winning British crime writer launches a series about the Black Death.

In the summer of 1348, Sir Richard of Develish journeys to Bradmayne on business. While he’s away, news reaches Develish of a deadly pestilence. His wife, Lady Anne, brings her serfs within the moat of her manor house and then wisely refuses her husband’s re-entry, fearing he will bring the disease with him. She’s a woman ahead of her time, dismissing as superstition the idea of “a plague sent by God.” Years before, she’d had sewage pits dug well downwind of Develish; other villages didn’t dig any at all. Anne’s compassion for her serfs contrasts sharply with the attitude of her 14-year-old daughter, Eleanor, who hates everyone but her father and likes having serfs whipped. The living conditions in Bradmayne are vile; one might think “Men urinated where they stood” would say it all about a village, but the author spares no detail in showing what grossness causes stench and attracts vermin. People seem not to connect these godawful conditions with the “killing sickness in the village” that carries “a deadly pestilence with putrid boils” and requires the digging of mass graves. Before he succumbs, Sir Richard observes that “In twelve days, the world had changed beyond all recognition.” Yet no one knows how extensive that changed world is. Lady Anne has the serf Thaddeus Thurkell lead a small band of brave serfs to learn how other villages have fared. She is the central figure in this compelling saga in which people are either all virtuous and wise or all the opposite. While the serf Gyles Startout is a man of “courage and generosity,” Lady Eleanor opines how sweet it would be if he dies. As the plague continues at book’s end, Lady Anne still faces a dangerous enemy in her daughter.

Deeply researched and engrossing, this masterful series opener leaves readers hanging—Rats!—so they’ll eagerly await the sequel.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7783-6931-8

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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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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