MURDER GARDEN

Keen characterization drives a somewhat cold but thought-provoking crime tale.

A young gay man in 1960s Chicago is wrongfully accused of murder in Fritsch’s novel.

Twenty-something bank accountant Ted Linden comes home to a shock—his live-in boyfriend’s dead body. Someone has slashed 19-year-old Warren Hadley’s throat in their backyard garden. Ted wastes no time in pointing the finger at Darrel, Warren’s virulently homophobic older brother. As if losing his beloved partner weren’t enough, Ted suffers backlash following media coverage of the killing. Some of this is sadly unsurprising, such as his boss’s pique following Ted’s frank statements to reporters regarding his gay relationship. But he’s blindsided when he’s accused of Warren’s murder. Ted has little doubt that the real culprit is Darrel, but until the police can prove that, he must prepare to defend himself in the event he is indicted. And if Darrel is truly innocent as he claims, will it be up to Ted to find the murderer? The author’s quiet story is only nominally a mystery; things simply come to light, as neither Ted nor the amiable investigating local detective, Tim Conway, dig up any clues. There’s sharp, abundant social commentary taking aim at the Vietnam War and racism, among other topics (Warren, speaking of Darrel, suggests, “He should tell the draft board he’s homosexual. You know, he likes other men. After he does that, they won’t let him near the straight guys they’re sending to die in Viet Nam for no good reason at all”). The author develops the relatively small cast well; Ted and Warren, for example, have drastically different experiences coming out to their respective families. Unfortunately, readers barely get a glimpse of the couple’s 14-month romance before its tragic ending. Moreover, Ted’s passionless first-person narration fails to illustrate the dismay he must surely feel. While some readers will guess the ending, it still packs a punch as it reckons with the aftermath of such events for an openly gay man in the mid-20th century.

Keen characterization drives a somewhat cold but thought-provoking crime tale.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2023

ISBN: 9798985072631

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Asymmetric Worlds

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2023

THE FURY

More style than substance.

Michaelides takes a literary turn in his latest novel, employing an unreliable narrator, the structure of classical drama, and a self-conscious eye to dismantling the locked-room mystery.

The novel starts off with a murder, and with seven people trapped on an isolated Greek island lashed by a "wild, unpredictable Greek wind." The narrator, soon established as Elliot Chase, then zooms out to address the reader directly, introducing the players—most importantly movie star Lana Farrar. We meet her husband, Jason Miller, her son, Leo, and her friend Kate Crosby, a theater actress. We learn about her rise to fame and her older first husband, Otto Krantz, a Hollywood producer. We learn about Kate’s possibly stalling career and Leo’s plan to apply to acting schools against his mother’s wishes. We learn about Jason’s obsession with guns. And in fragments and shards, we learn about Elliot: his painful childhood; his May–September relationship with an older female writer, now dead; his passion for the theater, where he learned “to change everything about [himself]” to fit in. Though he isn't present in every scene, he conveys each piece of the story leading up to the murder as if he were an omniscient narrator, capable of accessing every character's interior perspective. When he gets to the climax, there is, indeed, a shooting. There is, indeed, a motive. And there is, of course, a twist. The atmosphere of the novel, set mostly on this wild Greek island, echoes strongly the classical tragedies of Greece. The characters are types. The emotions are operatic. And the tragedy, of course, leads us to question the idea of fate. Michaelides seems also to be dipping into the world of Edgar Allan Poe, offering an unreliable narrator who feels more like a literary exercise. As an exploration of genre, it’s really quite fascinating. As a thriller, it’s not particularly surprising.

More style than substance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2024

ISBN: 9781250758989

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2023

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

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. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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