A TASTE FOR DEATH

Like her other recent, long mysteries (Death of an Expert Witness, The Skull Beneath the Skin), James' new 480-page novel is absorbing reading, chockablock with arresting characters, edgily compelling conversation, and grainy atmospherics. Also like those books, however, it isn't a first-rate-mystery—and its final chapters, suddenly reaching for ambitious psychological melodrama (reminiscent of Ruth Rendell), show James' talent straining against the genre limitations. Sir Paul Berowne, a former Crown minister who has recently had some sort of religious awakening, is found bloodily dead in the vestry of a humble London church; nearby is the body of a similarly slain tramp. Scotland Yard's first impression? That an unhinged Berowne killed the tramp, then committed suicide. But poet-sleuth Adam Dalgliesh, leading a special squad, is not convinced. And his full-scale investigation focuses primarily on the layered secrets of the grand Berowne household: the dead man's imperious, aged mother; his frivolous, pregnant, unfaithful (second) wife; his estranged, leftist daughter; family retainers, both bitter and doting. Virtually everyone has a motive. . .and an alibi. Meanwhile, too, James offers sympathetic portraits of non-suspects—like the timid spinster and the local waif who found the bodies; or smart young policewoman Kate Miskin, who's determined to leave her down-scale background (including an aging grandmother) behind. Paradoxically, however, neither of the two central figures here—Dalgliesh himself and murder-victim Sir Paul—emerges with comparable sharpness. And there's a sense of anticlimax when the unmasked killer (unsurprising, unconvincing) takes cop Kate as a hostage—in a harrowing yet contrived and lopsided finale. Unlike Dorothy L. Sayers at her best, then, James hasn't quite managed to combine novelistic richness with disturbing, satisfying mystery. (Rendell, less ambitiously, channels her equally complex talents into many small, neat books in different genres.) But, resonating with themes, from family responsibility to class warfare to the perils of ambition, this leisurely, somber investigation is moodily compelling most of the way through—and only disappointing in its fitful, hollow resolutions.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1986

ISBN: 1400096472

Page Count: 585

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1986

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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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An appealing new heroine, a fast-moving plot, and a memorably nightmarish family make this one of Box’s best.

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THE BITTERROOTS

The creator of Wyoming Fish and Game Warden Joe Pickett (Wolf Pack, 2019, etc.) launches a new series starring a female private eye who messes with a powerful family and makes everyone involved rue the day.

Cassie Dewell’s been taking a monthly retainer from Bozeman attorney Rachel Mitchell for investigations of one sort and another, but she really doesn’t want to look into the case of Rachel’s newest client. That’s partly because Blake Kleinsasser, the fourth-generation firstborn of a well-established ranching family who moved to New York and made his own bundle before returning back home, comes across as a repellent jerk and partly because all the evidence indicates that he raped Franny Porché, his 15-year-old niece. And there’s plenty of evidence, from a rape kit showing his DNA to a lengthy, plausible statement from Franny. But Cassie owes Rachel, and Rachel tells her she doesn’t have to dig up exculpatory evidence, just follow the trail where it leads so that she can close off every other possibility. So Cassie agrees even though there’s an even more compelling reason not to: The Kleinsassers—Horst II and Margaret and their three other children, John Wayne, Rand, and Cheyenne, Franny’s thrice-divorced mother—are not only toxic, but viperishly dangerous to Blake and now Cassie. Everyone in Lochsa County, from Sheriff Ben Wagy on down, is in their pockets, and everyone Cassie talks to, from the Kleinsassers to the local law, finds new ways to make her life miserable. But Cassie, an ex-cop single mother, isn’t one to back down, especially since she wonders why anyone would take all the trouble to stop an investigation of a case that was as rock-solid as this one’s supposed to be.

An appealing new heroine, a fast-moving plot, and a memorably nightmarish family make this one of Box’s best.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-05105-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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