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From the Lord Hani Mysteries series , Vol. 2

A satisfying mystery in a vividly realized historical setting.

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In this historical mystery set in ancient Egypt, a career diplomat searches for his missing brother-in-law while also investigating a case of royal blackmail.

Hani is back in Holmes’ second book (Bird in a Snare, 2020) in the Lord Hani mystery series. The protagonist is a former diplomat with serious reservations about King Akhenaten’s rule. Policy disagreements have prompted him to leave active service in the diplomatic corps since he’s unable to enforce a foreign policy he doesn’t respect. But the bigger issue is religion; King Akhenaten traded observing polytheistic traditions for worshipping a sun god, “dazzling Aten, the Visible One.” The new religion makes it an uneasy time in the changing kingdom, as does a recently founded, unstable capital city, which still has “a look of rawness.” “Everything was dust and gravel except for the whitewashed splendor of the temples and palaces,” Hani observes cynically. Despite Hani’s displeasure with the new regime, he tries to keep himself and his family in the government’s good graces. Hani’s brother-in-law, Amen-em-hut, a prophet of Amen-Ra, is not as diplomatic. After openly complaining about Akhenaten’s heresy and suggesting he be assassinated, he’s gone missing. Drawing on his contacts in the capital, Hani begins his search for him, but he’s soon asked to help with another problem. Kiya, the king’s wife and a friend of Hani’s, is being blackmailed for having an affair with an artisan sculptor. As if things weren’t chaotic enough, Hani agrees to host Aziru—a newly added vassal—and his entourage as a favor to the king. A crowded house becomes more crowded. “When was the last time anything normal happened in our kingdom?” Hani asks Maya, his faithful scribe and constant companion.

The novel meticulously constructs its historical setting. The cast is equally intricate, comprising a lively circle of Hani’s family, friends, and acquaintances. The major plot threads are Hani’s investigations, but the novel also juggles several satisfying minor arcs, including Maya’s marriage to Hani’s daughter Sat-hut-haru and Hani’s youngest daughter’s interest in medicine. Holmes captures the pressures and anxieties of regime change, religious allegiances, and political jockeying, but the author never loses sight of the drama, joy, and pain within Hani’s household. Holmes expertly develops the cast and setting; for example, in a scene that vividly reunites Hani and Kiya, Hani notices that “her big almond eyes looked twice as enormous edged with kohl. She wore a short Nubian-style wig, angled below the ears to become even shorter in back.” He goes on: “It was the latest style, and it had never looked better than upon this glittering young princess.” The danger of such a carefully researched subject is that the material can capsize the plot, but Holmes ably inserts historical exposition into his storytelling. Occasionally, the Byzantine network of characters makes it difficult to connect with minor figures, but an overstuffed cast makes for more suspects and opportunities for sequels.

A satisfying mystery in a vividly realized historical setting.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73498-683-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: N.L. Holmes

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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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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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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