A potentially engaging mystery embedded in an overly daunting puzzle.

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THE COLOR OF BEE LARKHAM'S MURDER

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: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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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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