It’s less a whodunit than a ripsnorter, with an emphasis on the ripping. Or maybe the snorting.

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THE DEVIL'S EVIDENCE

Thomas Fool, Satan’s top crime solver, is back, and, more than ever, you wonder what awful deeds this poor wretch did in life to deserve such a relentlessly dreadful calling.

This follow-up to Unsworth’s debut novel, The Devil’s Detective (2015), finds Hell’s “Information Man” once again dealing with wanton, inexplicable, and unauthorized violence visited upon the Eternally Condemned. In this case, it’s a series of fires—“Six, maybe seven, or even eight”—that have fatally burned living souls all over the netherworld. (And yes, Hell is notorious for fire. But if you paid attention to this novel’s immediate predecessor, you’re aware that these days, there are many more awful things that can happen to you Down There than being roasted on a spit 24/7.) As Fool is struggling to determine a pattern for this homicidal arson, his masters dispatch him and a delegation of demons to Heaven, aka the Not-Nearly-As-Bad-Place-Up-Yonder, where, hard as it may be to believe, there are also a handful of unexplained murders that may or may not be linked to the ones down below. Despite being disdained by Heaven’s angelic elite while being tortured by Hell’s roughneck “Evidence” specialists, Fool doggedly presses on with his inquiry, finding almost as many distressing similarities between Heaven and Hell as he does unsettling contrasts. Both, for instance, have bureaucracies that are arbitrary and shortsighted in dispensing judgment. “There are hierarchies even [in Heaven],” Fool thinks to himself. “Even in the place of perfection there are those who are more powerful, more perfect.” Soon, both hierarchies are goaded from uneasy détente to total war, and Fool finds himself running out of time and resources to figure out who, or what, is behind this unholy maelstrom. Unsworth’s conception of a spiritual universe where deeper understanding may itself be the greatest curse is as nuanced and ingenious as his depiction of “poor little Fool,” perhaps the most oddly endearing sleuth to come along in years. The scales are tipped a tad more toward gaudy savagery and gratuitous cruelty than toward more intellectual digressions and plot twists. Still, one suspects Thomas Fool will return, with more respect from readers than from his spiritual jailers.

It’s less a whodunit than a ripsnorter, with an emphasis on the ripping. Or maybe the snorting.

Pub Date: July 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-385-53936-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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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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Creepy, violent, and propulsive; a standout gothic mystery.

THINGS IN JARS

Lady detective Bridie Devine searches for a missing child and finds much more than she bargained for.

Bridie Devine is no stranger to the seedy underworld of Victorian London. An accomplished detective with medical training, she sometimes helps the police by examining bodies to determine the cause of death. Bridie recently failed to find a lost child, and when she’s approached about another missing child, the daughter of Sir Edmund Berwick, she isn’t enthusiastic about taking on the case. But Christabel Berwick is no ordinary child. Sir Edmund has hidden Christabel away her whole life and wants Bridie to believe this is an ordinary kidnapping. Bridie does a little digging and learns that Christabel isn’t his daughter so much as his prized specimen. Sir Edmund believes Christabel is a “merrow,” a darker and less romanticized version of a mermaid. Bridie is skeptical, but there are reports of Christabel’s sharp teeth, color-changing eyes, and ability to drown people on dry land. Given that Bridie’s new companion is a ghost who refuses to tell her why he’s haunting her, Bridie might want to open her mind a bit. There’s a lot going on in this singular novel, and none of it pretty. Bridie’s London is soaked with mud and blood, and her past is nightmarish at best. Kidd (Mr. Flood’s Last Resort, 2018, etc.) is an expert at setting a supernatural mood perfect for ghosts and merrows, but her human villains make them seem mundane by comparison. With so much detail and so many clever, Dickensian characters, readers might petition Kidd to give Bridie her own series.

Creepy, violent, and propulsive; a standout gothic mystery.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-2128-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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