THE KILLING DOLL

Rendell returns to her favorite psychological-suspense device here: two separate story-lines that will eventually overlap—with fatal results. And, also as before (Lake of Darkness, Master of the Moor), Rendell's quiet English setting harbors a surprising, slightly excessive number of criss-crossing nut-cases. The principal plot focuses on the London-suburb household of mousey businessman Harold Yearman, whose wife has just died—leaving behind a strange, devoted pair of siblings: Dolly, in her 20s, a withdrawn innocent, psychically scarred by a large facial birthmark; and her teenage brother "Pup," short and insecure, who becomes bookishly obsessed with witchcraft, casting spells in his mini-temple upstairs. But then, while Dolly (a wine alcoholic, ever more disturbed) comes to believe utterly in Pup's abracadabra, Pup himself soon grows taller, discovers sex—and no longer needs the occult outlet. Will he, nonetheless, keep doing magic for Dolly's benefit? Yes, he will—because he loves her. . . and because his supposed witchcraft-club meetings give him a cover for his many amorous assignations. (Dolly is shocked, jealous, at each hint of Pup's sex-life.) So, when father Harold marries the youngish, vulgar Myra, Dolly persuades Pup to cast an evil spell on their "wicked stepmother"—who does indeed quite promptly die. (The real cause: a botched attempt at self-abortion.) This, of course, only reaffirms Dolly's faith in Pup's powers. And when Dolly's new, first-ever friend, lovely Yvonne, reveals that her husband is deep in a homosexual affair, wacko Dolly—now hallucinating like crazy, hearing voices —insists that Pup come up with a spell to kill off Yvonne's gay rival. But it's Dolly herself who finally does non-magical murder. . . unhinged by jealousy (Pup and Yvonne pair off), alcoholism, paranoia, and—when Pup won't magically remove her birthmark —bitter disappointment. Where's the second story-line, you ask? Well, Dolly will predictably meet her violent end from a neighborhood maniac—whose psychotic doings are dropped in now and again. And this contrived subplot is a significant flaw here. But, if less masterful than the best Rendell psycho-suspense (Judgement in Stone, Make Death Love Me), this is a strong improvement over Master of the Moor—with genuine, haunting creepiness and achingly pathetic irony in the central portrait: an obsessed brother and sister, one surfacing to sanity while the other sinks ever deeper into madness.

Pub Date: May 29, 1984

ISBN: 0517629909

Page Count: -

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1984

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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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A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be...

BADLANDS

Box takes another break from his highly successful Joe Pickett series (Stone Cold, 2014, etc.) for a stand-alone about a police detective, a developmentally delayed boy, and a package everyone in North Dakota wants to grab.

Cassandra Dewell can’t leave Montana’s Lewis and Clark County fast enough for her new job as chief investigator for Jon Kirkbride, sheriff of Bakken County. She leaves behind no memories worth keeping: her husband is dead, her boss has made no bones about disliking her, and she’s looking forward to new responsibilities and the higher salary underwritten by North Dakota’s sudden oil boom. But Bakken County has its own issues. For one thing, it’s cold—a whole lot colder than the coldest weather Cassie’s ever imagined. For another, the job she turns out to have been hired for—leading an investigation her new boss doesn’t feel he can entrust to his own force—makes her queasy. The biggest problem, though, is one she doesn’t know about until it slaps her in the face. A fatal car accident that was anything but accidental has jarred loose a stash of methamphetamines and cash that’s become the center of a battle between the Sons of Freedom, Bakken County’s traditional drug sellers, and MS-13, the Salvadorian upstarts who are muscling in on their territory. It’s a setup that leaves scant room for law enforcement officers or for Kyle Westergaard, the 12-year-old paperboy damaged since birth by fetal alcohol syndrome, who’s walked away from the wreck with a prize all too many people would kill for.

A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be welcome to return and tie up the gaping loose end Box leaves. The unrelenting cold makes this the perfect beach read.

Pub Date: July 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-58321-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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