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An intricate and often intriguing exploration of tensions and secrets in a small town.

In Prill’s mystery novel, an Iowa-based detective, assigned to investigate a former soldier’s death in a nearby rural community, uncovers killings stretching back to the 1940s.

In a time-jumping opener, businessman Richard Frost leaves his home in Brinson, Iowa, on November 7, 1940, never to be seen again, and an unnamed man in his mid-60s in 2020 receives a manuscript that claim to reveal the “truth”: “Everything in this book is true. It’s not historical fiction. It’s not based on enhanced memories—it is the truth.” The novel then delves into the life-changing 1970 experiences of Brent Frost, a high school freshman in Brinson, and 41-year-old Fred Barnes, an Iowa Crimes Commission detective from Des Moines, who comes to the rural town to address a request to investigate the suspicious suicide of a Vietnam veteran. Barnes, who’s recently widowed, soon becomes romantically involved with the requestor, Janice Hinton. Brent, meanwhile, attracts the interest of a local girl after he takes a dare to find out what’s hidden in an area barn. The son of the missing businessman also returns to town, looking for closure. Investigations escalate when telltale evidence turns up in a local well, a fisherman reports that something is stuck in the nearby lake, and Barnes discovers a strange pattern of deaths; later, there’s a tense showdown. In this book, Prill effectively pivots from his previous historical novels set in ancient Rome, including From the Realm of Time (2020), to craft an enjoyable heartland mystery that offers a diverse range of characters—including several surprise criminals and victims. Given the complexity of the world that the author sets in motion, some readers may feel that the dense narrative is challenging to follow at times. Thankfully, Prill also provides a character list upfront for easy reference, as well as an extended epilogue that entertainingly wraps up the fates of this story’s many colorful players.

An intricate and often intriguing exploration of tensions and secrets in a small town.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2023

ISBN: 9780990860440

Page Count: 358

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2023

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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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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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