A smart chamber drama about the ways aesthetics can govern lives—and, at times, can make people toxic to those around them.

LIARS

In this novel of midlife malaise and creative frustration, a novelist insinuates himself into the seemingly idyllic life of a local couple, with emotional destruction in mind.

Eric McCanus, the narrator of Gillis’ (The Consequences of Skating, 2010, etc.) novel, leads a complicated life. He’s the author of a literary cult classic, but as he’s grown older, his time has been increasingly spent working in the music industry. He remains friendly with his ex-wife, Lidia, and he’s begun a nebulous relationship with Gloria, a musician. As the novel opens, he sees a couple, Matt and Cara, who seem to be perfectly happy—and so he decides to befriend both with the hope of putting their marriage to the test and obtaining material for a new novel along the way. “I have come to regard every relationship as its own intimate deception,” he says early in the book, and some of the tension in the novel arises as he attempts to prove himself right, treating the very real lives around him as though they’re as malleable as characters in a book. Gillis periodically incorporates passages from Eric’s work in progress, demonstrating the gulf between his imagined version of Cara and Matt and the actual version of the couple. The five main characters each have wildly different takes on the nature of love and creative expression, and the discussions that they have are lively. Gillis doesn’t let Eric’s more controlling or condescending tendencies go unnoticed: at one point, he quips to Gloria, “What do you know about Berryman?” It’s a heady book that also acknowledges the dangers of headiness.

A smart chamber drama about the ways aesthetics can govern lives—and, at times, can make people toxic to those around them.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-945572-47-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Rare Bird Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless...

SPLIT SECOND

Two defrocked Secret Service Agents investigate the assassination of one presidential candidate and the kidnapping of another.

Baldacci (The Christmas Train, 2002, etc.) sets out with two plot strands. The first begins when something distracts Secret Service Agent Sean King and during that “split second,” presidential candidate Clyde Ritter is shot dead. King takes out the killer, but that’s not enough to save his reputation with the Secret Service. He retires and goes on to do often tedious but nonetheless always lucrative work (much like a legal thriller such as this) at a law practice. Plot two begins eight years later when another Secret Service Agent, Michelle Maxwell, lets presidential candidate John Bruno out of her sight for a few minutes at a wake for one of his close associates. He goes missing. Now Maxwell, too, gets in dutch with the SS. Though separated by time, the cases are similar and leave several questions unanswered. What distracted King at the rally? Bruno had claimed his friend’s widow called him to the funeral home. The widow (one of the few characters here to have any life) says she never called Bruno. Who set him up? Who did a chambermaid at Ritter’s hotel blackmail? And who is the man in the Buick shadowing King’s and Maxwell’s every move? King is a handsome, rich divorce, Maxwell an attractive marathon runner. Will they join forces and find each other kind of, well, appealing? But of course. The two former agents traverse the countryside, spinning endless hypotheses before the onset, at last, of a jerrybuilt conclusion that begs credibility and offers few surprises.

Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless concoction.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2003

ISBN: 0-446-53089-1

Page Count: 406

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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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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