Fans of bookish European fiction will enjoy this, the too abundant Dan Brown–ian motions notwithstanding.

THE LUDWIG CONSPIRACY

Who was that Cowled Man? Austrian novelist Pötzsch serves up an ambitious though familiar tale of Mad King Ludwig. 

Clues tucked away in old books, secret societies (cowled, naturally, the better to hide) seeking to keep the secrets in those musty pages safe from prying eyes, history hinging on the occult—it’s well-worked territory. That said, Pötzsch (The Beggar King, 2013) will endear himself to independent booksellers everywhere by making the hero of the piece one of their kind (“[h]ours of dealing with damaged books had hit him harder than he liked to admit”), if one unusually full of lethal surprises (“[t]he king would never have believed the bookseller capable of killing one of the strongest knights in cold blood”). At his side stands Sara Lengfeld, ace art detective—“Art detective? More like a female Philip Marlowe,” thinks Steven, antiquarian bookseller, appreciatively. How a secret diary has come into Steven’s hands is one of many implausibilities in a story that begs and begs again the suspension of disbelief, but no matter: Anyone who’s visited Bavaria and toured the great Neuschwanstein Castle will have wondered why Ludwig II, the brilliant and eccentric ruler of that formerly independent state, wound up deposed and dead under very strange circumstances, and Pötzsch offers an intriguing, entertaining answer. Moreover, his novel includes a virtual book-within-book tour of Ludwig’s two palaces, along with that castle, in which clues unfold at a brisk pace. The writing is occasionally clunky (“His headache the next morning told Steven that the Montepulciano had been a bit stronger than he was used to”; “[t]he ramshackle horse-drawn cab tossed Steven roughly back and forth”), but the tale moves along well enough, and it resolves nicely.

Fans of bookish European fiction will enjoy this, the too abundant Dan Brown–ian motions notwithstanding.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-547-74010-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2013

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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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A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be...

BADLANDS

Box takes another break from his highly successful Joe Pickett series (Stone Cold, 2014, etc.) for a stand-alone about a police detective, a developmentally delayed boy, and a package everyone in North Dakota wants to grab.

Cassandra Dewell can’t leave Montana’s Lewis and Clark County fast enough for her new job as chief investigator for Jon Kirkbride, sheriff of Bakken County. She leaves behind no memories worth keeping: her husband is dead, her boss has made no bones about disliking her, and she’s looking forward to new responsibilities and the higher salary underwritten by North Dakota’s sudden oil boom. But Bakken County has its own issues. For one thing, it’s cold—a whole lot colder than the coldest weather Cassie’s ever imagined. For another, the job she turns out to have been hired for—leading an investigation her new boss doesn’t feel he can entrust to his own force—makes her queasy. The biggest problem, though, is one she doesn’t know about until it slaps her in the face. A fatal car accident that was anything but accidental has jarred loose a stash of methamphetamines and cash that’s become the center of a battle between the Sons of Freedom, Bakken County’s traditional drug sellers, and MS-13, the Salvadorian upstarts who are muscling in on their territory. It’s a setup that leaves scant room for law enforcement officers or for Kyle Westergaard, the 12-year-old paperboy damaged since birth by fetal alcohol syndrome, who’s walked away from the wreck with a prize all too many people would kill for.

A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be welcome to return and tie up the gaping loose end Box leaves. The unrelenting cold makes this the perfect beach read.

Pub Date: July 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-58321-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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