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

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THE MISTLETOE MURDER

AND OTHER STORIES

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 28, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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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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THE MIDNIGHT CLUB

Patterson's thrillers (Virgin, 1980; Black Market, 1986) have plummeted in quality since his promising debut in The Thomas Berryman Number (1976)—with this latest being the sorriest yet: a clanky and witless policer about a criminal mastermind and the cop sworn to take him down. Aside from watching sympathetic homicide dick John ("Stef") Stefanovich comeing to terms with a wheelchair-bound life—legacy of a shotgun blast to the back by drug-and-gun-running archfiend Alexandre St.-Germain—the major interest here lies in marvelling at the author's trashing of fiction convention. The whopper comes early: although St.-Germain is explicity described as being machine-gunned to death by three vigilante cops in a swank brothel (". . .a submachine gun blast nearly ripped off the head of Alexandre St.-Germain"; "The mobster's head and most of his neck had been savaged by the machine-gun volley. The body looked desecrated. . ."), before you know it this latter-day Moriarty is stepping unscathed out of an airplane. What gives? Authorial cheating, that's what—thinly glossed over with some mumbling later on about a "body double." Not that St.-Germain's ersatz death generated much suspense anyway, with subsequent action focusing on, among other items, the gory killings of assorted mob bosses by one of the vigilante cops, and Stef's viewing of pornographic tapes confiscated from that brothel. But readers generous enough to plod on will get to read about the newly Lazarus-ized St.-Germain's crass efforts to revitalize and consolidate the world's crime syndicates ("the Midnight Club"), Stef's predictable tumble for a sexy true-crime writer, and how (isn't one miracle enough for Patterson?) at book's end Stef walks again and gets to embrace a rogue cop who's murdered several people. Ironsides with a badge and a lobotomy.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1988

ISBN: 0446676411

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1988

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