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THE COLOR OF BEE LARKHAM'S MURDER

A potentially engaging mystery embedded in an overly daunting puzzle.

A teenager with autism becomes embroiled in the murder of a neighbor—but as culprit or witness?

Comparisons of this novel with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (2003) will be inevitable but, sadly, unwarranted. Thirteen-year-old Jasper Wishart, the protagonist of Harris’ first novel for adults (after having written YA under a pseudonym), is on the spectrum, and what an infinitely varied spectrum it is. He has synesthesia—sights and, particularly, in his case, sounds evoke a range of colors most people can’t see. But he is face-blind, unable to recognize even those closest to him except by hue of voice and clothing. He takes everything literally, including metaphors, idioms, and empty threats, like those of his blustery neighbor David Gilbert. The narrative, told exclusively from Jasper’s first-person perspective, ratchets between past and present as Jasper tries to reconstruct events in his London street by painting the colors of his memories. He thinks he killed his new neighbor, Bee Larkham, but has only disordered images, a bloodied knife, and his own stomach slash wound as evidence. His father, who has raised Jasper alone since the deaths of his mother and grandmother, is coping by covering up—Jasper is sure Dad disposed of Bee’s body. Jasper recalls how Bee, a musician and Australian transplant, fomented neighborhood squabbles by blaring loud music and deliberately luring wild parakeets to feeders in her front yard. (These descendants of escaped pet birds have become an invasive pest in the U.K.) Even more disruptive is Bee’s questionable behavior with her young music students, especially Jasper’s schoolmate Lucas Drury. Although Harris strives to keep things coherent with chapter headings dated using Jasper’s idiosyncratic color markers, readers must work to make sense of it all. Unpacking Jasper’s color-coded reality becomes as tedious as deciphering hieroglyphics. Those few instances when Jasper delivers a straight narrative are essential for exposition purposes but feel like a violation of the novel’s fourth wall. The end result of Harris’ determination to spare no synesthetic detail, is, well, monochromatic.

A potentially engaging mystery embedded in an overly daunting puzzle.

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-8789-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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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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HOUSE OF LEAVES

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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