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Ceremonious, nasty, and very welcome indeed.

Half a dozen more reprinted stories, originally published between 1973 and 2005, from the late doyenne of the formal English mystery in all its majesty.

As in The Mistletoe Murder (2016), the brief, nondescript introduction, this time by Peter Kemp, gives no information about the dates or original publication venues of these wondrous tales. But fans hungry for scraps from James’ table will revel in the stories themselves. Ironically, only “The Murder of Santa Claus,” the longest of them, is a traditional whodunit, using a meticulously evoked country-house setting at Christmas 1939 to bring together an uncomfortable roster of guests and a venerable host who’s first threatened and then killed shortly after he makes the midnight rounds as Father Christmas. The rest of them mostly explore the favorite subject of James’ short fiction: how people no worse than you get or keep the power they crave by conniving in, carrying out, or concealing murders. The earliest of them, “The Victim,” is the confession of a timid librarian who killed the man who stole his beautiful wife; it ends with a disquieting twist. “A Very Desirable Residence” matter-of-factly shows the pains a killer will take to secure the eponymous dwelling. “Mr. Millcroft’s Birthday,” first published as “The Man Who Was Eighty,” uses another confession of murder to turn conniving family members against each other in a memorably heartless game of cat and mouse. “The Yo Yo,” which recalls another Christmas visit cut short by murder, is notable for a telling change it makes from its earlier appearance as “Hearing Ghote”: the narrator’s highly questionable actions are no longer inspired by an H.R.F. Keating novel he’s reading but by the more neutral-seeming Treasure Island. Best of all is “The Girl Who Loved Graveyards,” which irradiates the story of an orphaned girl whose memories of her late father and grandmother have fed her unwholesome attachment to cemeteries with a sense of hyperliterate creepiness.

Ceremonious, nasty, and very welcome indeed.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-525-52073-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

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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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Irritatingly trite woman-in-periler from lawyer-turned-novelist Baldacci. Moving away from the White House and the white-shoe Washington law firms of his previous bestsellers (Absolute Power, 1996; Total Control, 1997), Baldacci comes up with LuAnn Tyler, a spunky, impossibly beautiful, white-trash truck stop waitress with a no-good husband and a terminally cute infant daughter in tow. Some months after the birth of Lisa, LuAnn gets a phone call summoning her to a make-shift office in an unrented storefront of the local shopping mall. There, she gets a Faustian offer from a Mr. Jackson, a monomaniacal, cross-dressing manipulator who apparently knows the winning numbers in the national lottery before the numbers are drawn. It seems that LuAnn fits the media profile of what a lottery winner should be—poor, undereducated but proud—and if she's willing to buy the right ticket at the right time and transfer most of her winnings to Jackson, she'll be able to retire in luxury. Jackson fails to inform her, however, that if she refuses his offer, he'll have her killed. Before that can happen, as luck would have it, LuAnn barely escapes death when one of husband Duane's drug deals goes bad. She hops on a first-class Amtrak sleeper to Manhattan with a hired executioner in pursuit. But executioner Charlie, one of Jackson's paid handlers, can't help but hear wedding bells when he sees LuAnn cooing with her daughter. Alas, a winning $100- million lottery drawing complicates things. Jackson spirits LuAnn and Lisa away to Sweden, with Charlie in pursuit. Never fear. Not only will LuAnn escape a series of increasingly violent predicaments, but she'll also outwit Jackson, pay an enormous tax bill to the IRS, and have enough left over to honeymoon in Switzerland. Too preposterous to work as feminine wish-fulfillment, too formulaic to be suspenseful. (Book-of-the-Month Club main selection)

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1997

ISBN: 0-446-52259-7

Page Count: 528

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1997

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