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THE MISTLETOE MURDER

AND OTHER STORIES

Still, no one would take exception to the concluding sentiment in McDermid's introduction: “These stories are a delicious...

A slender collection that reprints four of the 20 mystery stories James left behind at her death in 2014.

Murder comes for Christmas in two of these deceptively decorous tales. In the 1991 title story, a mystery author recalls the murder of an obnoxious guest during an anxious Christmas visit in 1940. The list of suspects is so short that it’s hard to imagine how James will pull off any surprises, but many readers will gasp at the very last sentence. “The Twelve Clues of Christmas” shows newly minted Sgt. Adam Dalgliesh assisting and ultimately impressing his superior officer by producing no less than a dozen clues that lead to the murderer of the eminently dispensable paterfamilias whose suicide note is just another red herring. In “The Boxdale Inheritance,” originally published as “Great Aunt Allie’s Flypapers” in 1979, Chief Superintendent Dalgliesh’s godfather asks him to assuage reservations about an inheritance he’s due by assuring him that his great aunt Allie didn’t take possession of the estate by feeding her much older husband arsenic 67 years ago. All three of these stories are as accomplished and literate as you’d expect, but the real prize is James’ very first short story, “Moment of Power,” originally published in 1968 and here retitled “A Very Commonplace Murder”: not a detective story but a memorably creepy tale about a voyeur whose spying puts him in a position to exonerate a man accused of murder but who wonders whether he’ll do anything of the sort. Unfortunately, Val McDermid’s brief introduction includes no information about the stories’ original publication and no hint of how these four stories came to be selected from among the author’s 20.

Still, no one would take exception to the concluding sentiment in McDermid's introduction: “These stories are a delicious gift to us at a time when we thought we would read no more of P.D. James’s work.” James’ fans can only hope for several more such gifts.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-451-49414-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

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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THE WINNER

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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