Only one question remains: Has the superheated prose on display here finally caught up with the postmodernism of Don Webb’s...

LET’S ALL KILL CONSTANCE

A third sort-of-mystery for the screenwriter hero of Death is a Lonely Business (1985) and A Graveyard for Lunatics (1990), now grown old enough to be a disillusioned hack, but not old enough to have acquired a name.

It’s a dark and stormy night when silent star Constance Rattigan turns up outside the writer’s bungalow quivering with fright. The reason lies in a pair of anonymous gifts: a 60-year-old Los Angeles telephone directory from 1900 and her own little black book, discarded long ago but now mysteriously returned annotated with symbols that seem to mark her and her few surviving friends for death. At dawn, hours after his intuitive wife Maggie has phoned from a teachers’ conference to ask who’s in bed with him, he awakens to find Rattigan gone. Her astral disappearance is the first indication, apart from the antic prose, that this is no ordinary whodunit, even though the body count will eventually stretch to include astrologer to the stars Queen Califia (née Alma Crown), whose go-for-it reading of June 10, 1932, got Constance to leap into holy matrimony with Clarence Rattigan (né Overholt); Constance’s brother, Father Seamus Rattigan of St. Bibiana’s; and her ancient father, Grauman’s Chinese projectionist Clyde Rustler. As the hero and his sidekick, beer-swilling shamus Elmo Crumley, rocket like pinballs from down-again filmmaker Fritz Wong to Hollywood Everyman Alberto Quickly and Hollywood Everywoman J. Wellington Bradford, hope fades that their madcap adventures will end in solving the case. But SF legend Bradbury (One More for the Road, p. 227, etc.) miraculously produces a solution that honors both the mystery formula and his own deeper roots in fantasy.

Only one question remains: Has the superheated prose on display here finally caught up with the postmodernism of Don Webb’s pastiches, or has postmodernism caught up with the prophetic Bradbury? Tune in next week.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2003

ISBN: 0-06-051584-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2002

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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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Proficient but eminently predictable. Amid all the time shifts and embedded backstories, the most surprising feature is how...

THE A LIST

A convicted killer’s list of five people he wants dead runs the gamut from the wife he’s already had murdered to franchise heroine Ali Reynolds.

Back in the day, women came from all over to consult Santa Clarita fertility specialist Dr. Edward Gilchrist. Many of them left his care happily pregnant, never dreaming that the father of the babies they carried was none other than the physician himself, who donated his own sperm rather than that of the handsome, athletic, disease-free men pictured in his scrapbook. When Alexandra Munsey’s son, Evan, is laid low by the kidney disease he’s inherited from his biological father and she returns to Gilchrist in search of the donor’s medical records, the roof begins to fall in on him. By the time it’s done falling, he’s serving a life sentence in Folsom Prison for commissioning the death of his wife, Dawn, the former nurse and sometime egg donor who’d turned on him. With nothing left to lose, Gilchrist tattoos himself with the initials of five people he blames for his fall: Dawn; Leo Manuel Aurelio, the hit man he’d hired to dispose of her; Kaitlyn Todd, the nurse/receptionist who took Dawn’s place; Alex Munsey, whose search for records upset his apple cart; and Ali Reynolds, the TV reporter who’d helped put Alex in touch with the dozen other women who formed the Progeny Project because their children looked just like hers. No matter that Ali’s been out of both California and the news business for years; Gilchrist and his enablers know that revenge can’t possibly be served too cold. Wonder how far down that list they’ll get before Ali, aided once more by Frigg, the methodical but loose-cannon AI first introduced in Duel to the Death (2018), turns on them?

Proficient but eminently predictable. Amid all the time shifts and embedded backstories, the most surprising feature is how little the boundary-challenged AI, who gets into the case more or less inadvertently, differs from your standard human sidekick with issues.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5101-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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