A potentially engaging mystery embedded in an overly daunting puzzle.

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

more