The most compelling mystery here lurks between the lines.

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DANGEROUS CROSSING

An Englishwoman running from her past finds herself out of her depth on a 1939 ocean voyage from England to Australia.

The opening tableau of Rhys’ novel flashes forward to its close: an elegant woman, handcuffed, clad in a green dress with matching hat and pumps and one of those fox stoles with a head, is escorted off a ship by police. Her identity and crime remain undisclosed until the end. Lily Shepherd, Rhys’ protagonist and sole narrator, is a former housemaid whose affair with the master’s son has driven her to enlist in a government program that recruits young women for domestic service in Australia. Upon embarking from Essex on the ocean liner Orontes, Lily is plunged into an ethnically and socially striated floating universe, competently evoked by Rhys. Sailing in tourist class, Lily has assigned dinner companions who include Edward Fletcher, newly recovered from tuberculosis, who is traveling to Australia for his heath, and his older sister, Helena. A less welcome fellow diner is George Price, a blustering bigot. Lily is immediately attracted to curly-haired, handsome Edward. She finds a confidante in Maria Katz, a Jewish woman who fled Nazi-annexed Austria and is anguished over the unknown fate of her parents, who stayed behind. First-class passengers Eliza and Max Campbell, charismatic aristocrats, often dragoon Lily and Edward into onboard and shoreside escapades involving copious alcohol consumption. But why are Eliza and Max slumming with the bourgeoisie in second class? On one such excursion, to the pyramids, Edward and Lily kiss, but for the ensuing weeks at sea he waxes alternately warm and distant. Lily is nonplussed, but her bafflement is required to guard the novel's main wellspring of suspense, which has little to do with the identities of the murderess or victim. The very naming of this issue would constitute a spoiler, which is a shame: dealing with it head-on would have made for a more complex and less coy narrative.

The most compelling mystery here lurks between the lines.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6272-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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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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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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