Russian Lit Lite.

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THE GENTLE AXE

The audacity of the premise—a sequel of sorts to Crime and Punishment—sets the bar for this debut novel way too high.

British writer Morris demonstrates well that he’s no Dostoevsky in this otherwise routine detective novel featuring the return of Porfiry Petrovich, still renowned for solving the case of Raskolnikov a year and a half earlier. Here, an old prostitute who serves as a mother figure to a younger one stumbles upon a horrible sight in the middle of Petrovsky Park. She sees two corpses: a very large man hanging from a tree and a very small man who has been bludgeoned to death, apparently by the larger one. The horror turns out to be a windfall for the elderly woman, who discovers a fortune in rubles in the pocket of the hanged man. For police and prosecutors, the deaths appear to be a simple matter of murder and suicide, particularly once it is learned that the two men had argued vehemently the day before their bodies were found. Yet Petrovich, sensing otherwise, orders an autopsy that confirms his suspicion that the obvious explanation is a little too pat. (The doctor performing the autopsy is one of the many minor characters who seem more like caricatures; one of Morris’s previous publications was a comic book.) The complications of the plot soon come to envelop both the older and the younger prostitute, a photographer of the risqué, a Russian prince, a vanished actor, a young student (compared by the characters to Raskolnikov), a publishing house that specializes in both translations of philosophy and erotica aimed at pedophiles and the entire household where both the very large man and the dwarf had lived. Petrovich ultimately solves the case through a literal process of elimination, as one major suspect after another dies in suspicious fashion. Morris’s Petrovich is more like Sherlock Holmes with a psychological bent, and his novel is closer to genre pulp than to the classics.

Russian Lit Lite.

Pub Date: March 26, 2007

ISBN: 1-59420-112-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2006

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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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Creepy, violent, and propulsive; a standout gothic mystery.

THINGS IN JARS

Lady detective Bridie Devine searches for a missing child and finds much more than she bargained for.

Bridie Devine is no stranger to the seedy underworld of Victorian London. An accomplished detective with medical training, she sometimes helps the police by examining bodies to determine the cause of death. Bridie recently failed to find a lost child, and when she’s approached about another missing child, the daughter of Sir Edmund Berwick, she isn’t enthusiastic about taking on the case. But Christabel Berwick is no ordinary child. Sir Edmund has hidden Christabel away her whole life and wants Bridie to believe this is an ordinary kidnapping. Bridie does a little digging and learns that Christabel isn’t his daughter so much as his prized specimen. Sir Edmund believes Christabel is a “merrow,” a darker and less romanticized version of a mermaid. Bridie is skeptical, but there are reports of Christabel’s sharp teeth, color-changing eyes, and ability to drown people on dry land. Given that Bridie’s new companion is a ghost who refuses to tell her why he’s haunting her, Bridie might want to open her mind a bit. There’s a lot going on in this singular novel, and none of it pretty. Bridie’s London is soaked with mud and blood, and her past is nightmarish at best. Kidd (Mr. Flood’s Last Resort, 2018, etc.) is an expert at setting a supernatural mood perfect for ghosts and merrows, but her human villains make them seem mundane by comparison. With so much detail and so many clever, Dickensian characters, readers might petition Kidd to give Bridie her own series.

Creepy, violent, and propulsive; a standout gothic mystery.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-2128-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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