The well-wrought plots and densely imagined worlds make this the most distinguished mystery collection so far this year.

Fourteen stories, most dating from 1996 to 2018, about Chicago shamus V.I. Warshawski, her friends and family, and a remarkably diverse group of other people.

Five of the seven stories about Warshawski are first-rate; only “Wildcat,” which takes the young Victoria’s family through the disruption of Martin Luther King’s 1966 visit to Chicago, and “Is It Justice?” a wish-fulfillment sequel to Critical Mass (2013) in which somebody shoots a newly exonerated killer as he descends the courthouse steps, play better as politics than fiction. In the others, V.I. seeks out a student she humiliated at a high school Q&A; finds a contemporary case of plagiarism beneath a decade-old murder; hunts down her client’s father only to be told that he’s not her client’s father; turns down a bodyguard gig on behalf of a wealthy author who begins trash-talking her every chance she gets; and, in the brand-new title story, goes to bat for her dislikable ex-neighbor’s kid brother when he’s arrested for murder. What’s even more impressive is the variety of the other seven stories. Paretsky effortlessly masters Dr. Watson’s voice in an adventure that shows Sherlock Holmes bested by an upstart American and sends Carroll John Daly’s pioneering hard-boiled dick Race Williams to the 1933 Century of Progress Fair. The deftly plotted “Acid Test” shows an apostle of nonviolence arrested for bombing a neighbor’s scientific institute. The charming “Miss Bianca” turns on a 10-year-old girl’s solicitude for a lab mouse. The dystopian fantasy “Safety First” and “Trial by Fire,” a pendant to Bleeding Kansas (2007), show off Paretsky’s willingness to take risks. And “Heartbreak House,” in which a romance writer’s editor recommends that she consult a psychotherapist, who promptly gets killed, ends the collection on a wryly amused note.

The well-wrought plots and densely imagined worlds make this the most distinguished mystery collection so far this year.

Pub Date: June 30, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-291554-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020


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


This book and its author are cleverer than you and want you to know it.

In this mystery, the narrator constantly adds commentary on how the story is constructed.

In 1929, during the golden age of mysteries, a (real-life) writer named Ronald Knox published the “10 Commandments of Detective Fiction,” 10 rules that mystery writers should obey in order to “play fair.” When faced with his own mystery story, our narrator, an author named Ernest Cunningham who "write[s] books about how to write books," feels like he must follow these rules himself. The story seemingly begins on the night his brother Michael calls to ask him to help bury a body—and shows up with the body and a bag containing $267,000. Fast-forward three years, and Ernie’s family has gathered at a ski resort to celebrate Michael’s release from prison. The family dynamics are, to put it lightly, complicated—and that’s before a man shows up dead in the snow and Michael arrives with a coffin in a truck. When the local cop arrests Michael for the murder, things get even more complicated: There are more deaths; Michael tells a story about a coverup involving their father, who was part of a gang called the Sabers; and Ernie still has (most of) the money and isn’t sure whom to trust or what to do with it. Eventually, Ernie puts all the pieces together and gathers the (remaining) family members and various extras for the great denouement. As the plot develops, it becomes clear that there’s a pretty interesting mystery at the heart of this novel, but Stevenson’s postmodern style has Ernie constantly breaking the fourth wall to explain how the structure of his story meets the criteria for a successful detective story. Some readers are drawn to mysteries because they love the formula and logic—this one’s for them. If you like the slow, sometimes-creepy, sometimes-comforting unspooling of a good mystery, it might not be your cup of tea—though the ending, to be fair, is still something of a surprise.

This book and its author are cleverer than you and want you to know it.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-06-327902-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Mariner Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2022

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