A remarkable protagonist leads a robust cast in this absorbing tale of self-discovery.

GRAVITY HILL

In this dramatic mystery, a teenager stuck in her small New England town takes a closer look at her brother’s fatal car accident.

Jordan Hawkins gives up a full scholarship to stay on her family farm in Asheville, Connecticut. The recent high school graduate puts college on hold, as she’s not sure her parents can handle the farm work without her. It’s only been a month since they lost Clay, Jordan’s older brother, who drove a truck with friends Tim Hatch and Tony Barbo into a tree—likely the result of drinking. Jordan becomes withdrawn and does little more than work at a factory and tend to the cows at home. But she does take some solace in Tim’s cousin Win Hatch, a former Asheville local who graduated from high school over a decade ago and now lives and works in Maine. There’s a chance their physical relationship could turn into something more, but then Jordan learns of Win’s somber past. He’s a recovering alcoholic who’s reputedly served time behind bars. As if that weren’t enough, Tony’s mom files suit against the Hawkins family and demands a much greater settlement than the farm insurance will cover. Townsfolk blame Clay for the others’ deaths, but Jordan has questions: How fast was he driving to cause the truck to burst into flames? When she finally investigates the accident, she somehow links it to an old toxic waste dump site. This shines a light on Asheville’s sordid history and stirs up secrets that some people don’t want unearthed.

Although mystery surrounds the truck accident, Davis’ character-driven story centers on its young protagonist. She’s resilient and sympathetic. Jordan denies herself time to grieve while Tony’s mother and even her own parents seem to forget she’s lost her brother. Jordan’s life gets more complicated later when she faces an important decision that, regardless of anyone else’s input, she must make on her own. The author effectively steeps the narrative in metaphors and analogies, from Jordan’s search for imperfections in bottles at the factory to the book’s title—a real-life place and anomaly in which cars in neutral ostensibly roll uphill. The simple, arresting prose is similarly inspired. Here, Jordan listens at her feuding parents’ bedroom door: “She waited there, crouched until her legs cramped and the cold settled into her bones. She heard her father snoring and her mother weeping, and she went back to bed, but she saw the sky change to a melon color before she fell into an uneasy sleep.” Supporting characters enrich Jordan’s tale and display distinctive personalities, including not-always-likable Win and environmentalist Eugene Martin, who’s keen on a fern species on the Hawkins property. While this cast propels the story, the understated mystery still engages. Readers, for example, know no more than Jordan regarding the fatal accident, and Asheville locals harbor quite a few skeletons. The final act wraps up this enigma without losing sight of the main journey as Jordan hopefully comes to terms with herself and where she wants to be.

A remarkable protagonist leads a robust cast in this absorbing tale of self-discovery.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-956440-06-5

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Madville Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 13, 2022

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A smart summer escape.

PORTRAIT OF AN UNKNOWN WOMAN

Silva’s latest Gabriel Allon novel is a bit of a throwback—in the best possible way.

One-time assassin and legendary spymaster Gabriel Allon has finally retired. After saying farewell to his friends and colleagues in Israel, he moves with his wife, Chiara, and their two young children to a piano nobile overlooking Venice’s Grand Canal. His plan is to return to the workshop where he learned to restore paintings as an employee—but only after he spends several weeks recovering from the bullet wound that left him dead for several minutes in The Cellist (2021). Of course, no one expects Gabriel to entirely withdraw from the field, and, sure enough, a call from his friend and occasional asset Julian Isherwood sends him racing around the globe on the trail of art forgers who are willing to kill to protect their extremely lucrative enterprise. Silva provides plenty of thrills and, as usual, offers a glimpse into the lifestyles of the outrageously wealthy. In the early books in this series, it was Gabriel’s work as an art restorer that set him apart from other action heroes, and his return to that world is the most rewarding part of this installment. It is true that, at this point in his storied career, Gabriel has become a nearly mythic figure. And Silva is counting on a lot of love—and willing suspension of disbelief—when Gabriel whips up four old master canvases that fool the world’s leading art experts as a lure for the syndicate selling fake paintings. That said, as Silva explains in an author’s note, the art market is rife with secrecy, subterfuge, and wishful thinking, in no small part because it is almost entirely unregulated. And, if anyone can crank out a Titian, a Tintoretto, a Gentileschi, and a Veronese in a matter of days, it’s Gabriel Allon. The author’s longtime fans may breathe a sigh of relief that this entry is relatively free of politics and the pandemic is nowhere in sight.

A smart summer escape.

Pub Date: July 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-283485-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Harper

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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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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