Winning, spontaneous and blood-real characters triumph over a far-fetched plot.

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THE STRANGER HOUSE

Suspense master Hill (Good Morning, Midnight, 2004, etc.) brings together a young Australian woman seeking her true parentage and a Spanish priest manqué in one creepy Cumbrian town.

Hailing from these strange Northern English parts, Hill knows the area well and hinges his story on several unpleasant bits of national history given imaginary local developments. The forced emigration of English orphans, for example: Samantha (Sam) Flood, a young Australian mathematics student at Cambridge, learns that her grandmother was probably pregnant at 12 years of age, in 1960, when she was shipped out from the town of Illthwaite (“an ill name for an ill place” says a disenchanted transplant). Brash, outspoken Sam appears in the village to check things out. No one in Illthwaite will talk to her at first, yet she gradually learns through reluctant confessions by descendants of the families concerned that her gran was raped by local boys, then hustled out of town. At the same time, seminarian Miguel (Mig) Madero, son of a Cádiz winegrower, arrives in town in search of material that he can incorporate into his doctoral dissertation. Mig has chosen the priesthood because of his spiritual visions, which involve stigmata and deep-seated memories. His visions are grounded in Illthwaite history. Mig unearths written testimonies about the horrible fate of a certain Spanish boy, his namesake, shipwrecked during the ill-fated Armada in 1588 and then enslaved by the nasty Gowder family. When discovered in flagrante with lonely wife Jenny Gowder, Miguel was crucified and left to die. (Jenny secretly cut him down.) There’s plenty of bad stuff still going on in this secretive village, but the dark climax is attractively mitigated by the growing warmth between recalcitrant Sam and sensitive virgin Mig, who recognizes that he’s not cut out for the priesthood after all.

Winning, spontaneous and blood-real characters triumph over a far-fetched plot.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-082081-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2005

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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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Now that Coben’s added politics to his heady brew, expect sex and religion to join the mix.

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THE BOY FROM THE WOODS

Coben’s latest darkest-suburbs thriller sets a decidedly offbeat detective on the trail of a crime with overtones unmistakably redolent of once and future presidential elections.

Wilde is called Wilde because nobody’s known his real name from the moment a pair of hikers found him foraging for himself in Ramapo Mountain State Forest 24 years ago. Now over 40, he’s had experience as both a lost boy and a private investigator. That makes him an obvious person to help when his godson, Sweet Water High School student Matthew Crimstein, expresses concern to his grandmother, attorney Hester Crimstein, that his bullied classmate Naomi Pine has gone missing. Matthew doesn’t really want anyone to help. He doesn’t even want anyone to notice his agitation. But Hester, taking the time from her criminal defense of financial consultant Simon Greene (Run Away, 2019) to worm the details out of him, asks Wilde to lend a hand, and sure enough, Wilde, unearthing an unsavory backstory that links Naomi to bullying classmate Crash Maynard, whose TV producer father, Dash Maynard, is close friends with reality TV star–turned–presidential hopeful Rusty Eggers, finds Naomi hale and hearty. Everything’s hunky-dory for one week, and then she disappears again. And this time, so does Crash after a brief visit to Matthew in which he tearfully confesses his guilt about the bad stuff he did to Naomi. This second disappearance veers into more obviously criminal territory with the arrival of a ransom note that demands, not money, but the allegedly incriminating videotapes of Rusty Eggers that Dash and Delia Maynard have had squirreled away for 30 years. The tapes link Rusty to a forgotten and forgettable homicide and add a paranoid new ripped-from-the-headlines dimension to the author’s formidable range. Readers who can tune out all the subplots will find the kidnappers easy to spot, but Coben finds room for three climactic surprises, one of them a honey.

Now that Coben’s added politics to his heady brew, expect sex and religion to join the mix.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4814-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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