DEATH IS A LONELY BUSINESS

Though dedicated to the memory of mystery-writers Chandler, Hammett, Cain, and Macdonald, Bradbury's new novel—his first full-length fiction since Something Wicked This Way Comes—isn't really an homage to the hard-boiled detective genre. The narrator-sleuth—a young writer obviously based on the young Ray B.—is as soft-boiled as they come. The style is pure Bradbury: poetic, dreamlike, a trifle cute and gushy. And the tale—which feels more like a stretched-out short story than a bona fide novel—is a familiar, YA-ish fantasy about death and loneliness, with only the most superficial use of a murder-mystery format. It's 1949 in Venice, California, "the days when the Venice pier was falling apart and dying in the sea and you could find there the bones of a vast dinosaur, the roller coaster, being covered by the shifting tides." The unnamed hero lives in a shabby room, pines for his faraway girlfriend, befriends assorted Venice eccentrics, and hammers out Bradbury-ish stories for mystery/fantasy magazines. Then, one night, he discovers the drowned body of an old recluse—the first of several local "Lonelies" (a bedridden "canary lady," a dangerously obese ex-opera-singer, etc.) who die in seemingly accidental circumstances. But the young writer is convinced that someone—"Mr. Lonely Death"—is arranging these pathetic demises. So, though tormented by death-dreams and mocked by a tough/sweet local cop, the writer tracks down and duels the smelly psycho-ghoul who's been preying on Lonelies, "a happy child in the fields of the Antichrist." As a parody/pastiche of Forties shamus-fiction, this is halfhearted and off-target. As a nostalgic portrait-of-the-artist-when-young, it's rather coy and faintly pompous ("I would fight all the way with my Remington portable which shoots more squarely, if you aim it right, than the rifle of the same name"). And Bradbury's treatment of the shopworn theme is blatantly sentimental, essentially juvenile. Still, Bradbury fans will find distinctive pleasures on display throughout this inflated, repetitious fable: vivid visual images, from submerged lion-cages to "books clustered like vultures with their black feathers and dusty golden stares"; memorable characters, lavishly grotesque or whimsically earthbound (e.g., a terrible barber whose existence is fueled by a fantasy of having once known Scott Joplin); and—on nearly every page—quirky blendings of creepiness and humor, innocence and decadence, nightmare and cartoon.

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1985

ISBN: 0380789655

Page Count: 244

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1985

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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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One protest from an outraged innocent says it all: “This is America. This is Wyoming.”

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LONG RANGE

Once again, Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett gets mixed up in a killing whose principal suspect is his old friend Nate Romanowski, whose attempts to live off the grid keep breaking down in a series of felony charges.

If Judge Hewitt hadn’t bent over to pick up a spoon that had fallen from his dinner table, the sniper set up nearly a mile from his house in the gated community of the Eagle Mountain Club would have ended his life. As it was, the victim was Sue Hewitt, leaving the judge alive and free to rail and threaten anyone he suspected of the shooting. Incoming Twelve Sleep County Sheriff Brendan Kapelow’s interest in using the case to promote his political ambitions and the judge’s inability to see further than his nose make them the perfect targets for a frame-up of Nate, who just wants to be left alone in the middle of nowhere to train his falcons and help his bride, Liv Brannon, raise their baby, Kestrel. Nor are the sniper, the sheriff, and the judge Nate’s only enemies. Orlando Panfile has been sent to Wyoming by the Sinaloan drug cartel to avenge the deaths of the four assassins whose careers Nate and Joe ended last time out (Wolf Pack, 2019). So it’s up to Joe, with some timely data from his librarian wife, Marybeth, to hire a lawyer for Nate, make sure he doesn’t bust out of jail before his trial, identify the real sniper, who continues to take an active role in the proceedings, and somehow protect him from a killer who regards Nate’s arrest as an unwelcome complication. That’s quite a tall order for someone who can’t shoot straight, who keeps wrecking his state-issued vehicles, and whose appalling mother-in-law, Missy Vankeuren Hand, has returned from her latest European jaunt to suck up all the oxygen in Twelve Sleep County to hustle some illegal drugs for her cancer-stricken sixth husband. But fans of this outstanding series will know better than to place their money against Joe.

One protest from an outraged innocent says it all: “This is America. This is Wyoming.”

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53823-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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