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ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER DALI

Orchard (A Fool and His Monet, 2016, etc.) creates a likable, enviable heroine who knows art inside out but seems a tad...

An art expert takes on a case of theft, forgery, and loopy family dynamics.

Oh, to be Serena Jones! Not only does she have long, wavy blonde locks, a job as a member of the FBI’s Art Crime Team in St. Louis, and the admiration of her dishy trainer/partner, Tanner Calhoun, and her hunky apartment super, Nate Butler; she also has eccentric great-aunt Martha, who serves up a mean dish of frog’s legs. On the down side, Serena is a terrible painter haunted by her vegetable still lifes, and her mother is poised to send out wedding invitations if Serena so much as breathes on anyone with a Y chromosome. And her redoubtable grandmother Nana wants Serena to recover a Dalí painting stolen from Nana’s friend Gladys Hoffemeier. It has to be done very discreetly: Gladys is worried that her daughter and her cop son are trying to chivvy her out of a huge, expensive house and will use the stolen painting as further evidence that Gladys can’t manage her estate. Serena soon discovers that she’s let herself in for a muddle of a case with an ever growing list of suspects—Gladys’ improvident son-in-law, a Russian mobster, an ersatz exterminator, a well-known local artist who inconveniently turns up dead. Acting on overheard conversations, warnings from Tanner that Nate and his brother may be shady, and her own wits to escape attempts on her life, Serena copes with even more than being prom queen at a fundraiser and choosing between Tanner’s brown eyes and Nate’s blue. When it’s not just her own life at stake, but Aunt Martha’s and a young protégé’s, Serena does what any self-respecting, government-trained agent does—goes rogue.

Orchard (A Fool and His Monet, 2016, etc.) creates a likable, enviable heroine who knows art inside out but seems a tad short on common sense.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8007-2669-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Revell

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2016

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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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WE WERE THE LUCKY ONES

Too beholden to sentimentality and cliché, this novel fails to establish a uniquely realized perspective.

Hunter’s debut novel tracks the experiences of her family members during the Holocaust.

Sol and Nechuma Kurc, wealthy, cultured Jews in Radom, Poland, are successful shop owners; they and their grown children live a comfortable lifestyle. But that lifestyle is no protection against the onslaught of the Holocaust, which eventually scatters the members of the Kurc family among several continents. Genek, the oldest son, is exiled with his wife to a Siberian gulag. Halina, youngest of all the children, works to protect her family alongside her resistance-fighter husband. Addy, middle child, a composer and engineer before the war breaks out, leaves Europe on one of the last passenger ships, ending up thousands of miles away. Then, too, there are Mila and Felicia, Jakob and Bella, each with their own share of struggles—pain endured, horrors witnessed. Hunter conducted extensive research after learning that her grandfather (Addy in the book) survived the Holocaust. The research shows: her novel is thorough and precise in its details. It’s less precise in its language, however, which frequently relies on cliché. “You’ll get only one shot at this,” Halina thinks, enacting a plan to save her husband. “Don’t botch it.” Later, Genek, confronting a routine bit of paperwork, must decide whether or not to hide his Jewishness. “That form is a deal breaker,” he tells himself. “It’s life and death.” And: “They are low, it seems, on good fortune. And something tells him they’ll need it.” Worse than these stale phrases, though, are the moments when Hunter’s writing is entirely inadequate for the subject matter at hand. Genek, describing the gulag, calls the nearest town “a total shitscape.” This is a low point for Hunter’s writing; elsewhere in the novel, it’s stronger. Still, the characters remain flat and unknowable, while the novel itself is predictable. At this point, more than half a century’s worth of fiction and film has been inspired by the Holocaust—a weighty and imposing tradition. Hunter, it seems, hasn’t been able to break free from her dependence on it.

Too beholden to sentimentality and cliché, this novel fails to establish a uniquely realized perspective.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-56308-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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