Smart, entertaining—but not quite satisfying.


Khair's American debut—published in his native India in 2009 and shortlisted for the Man Asian Prize—is an intricate, mostly winning parody/tribute to the Victorian novel. 

Set largely in 1830s London—a locale Khair reassembles using a witty pastiche of details from Dickens, Wilkie Collins and others—the novel centers on Amir Ali. Ali has come to England as a combination of refugee, research subject and mascot. He serves his condescending sponsor, Capt. William Meadows, by pretending to be a reformed member of the infamous Thugees. Meadows, a smug advocate of the powers of phrenology to reveal character traits, is writing a book about Amir called Notes on a Thug. The novel offers a wide variety of source-texts: snippets from Meadows' preposterous work of literary ventriloquism, in which Amir sings flowery praises to the Englishman's superior intellect, superior customs, superior God; Amir’s secret notes in Farsi script to his illiterate beloved, Jenny; scandal-sheet newspaper stories; meditations by a present-day narrator who purports to have found Amir's papers in his grandfather’s library and to be embroidering them into this novel. A mystery emerges, a twist on the actual case of William Burke, the “resurrection man” who, along with an accomplice, smothered street people in order to deliver their bodies to a surgeon who needed cadavers to study. In Khair’s reimagining, someone is decapitating—and stealing the heads of—victims, many of them immigrants. Suspicion falls on Amir, who feels complicit, as if his made-up stories about foreign evil at large have conjured a real-world form. Eventually, the case has to be solved, not by the bumbling office-bound authorities, who perceive the world through a scrim of racism and civilization that blinds them, but by an informal community of street folk led by a Punjabi woman, Qui Hy. Khair’s style is nimble, and his investigations into the nature of identity are compelling. But the mystery loses momentum and sputters out—finally, Khair isn’t as interested in it as he is in his (convincing, but not subtle or surprising) allegory about the racism and atrocity of colonialism.

Smart, entertaining—but not quite satisfying.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-547-73160-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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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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