Peppered with quaintly dated quotations about the roles of women in the 14th century and related facts, Bayard’s mystery...

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IN THE PRESENCE OF EVIL

A court scribe seeks to clear the name of a friend while working within the confines dictated by her station and sex in 1393 Paris.

Growing up friendly with the future King Charles, Christine de Pizan (in real life the author of The Book of the City of Ladies) never imagined being employed in service of the palace. But when her husband dies and leaves her with mouths to feed, she’s grateful for her work as a scribe. Because the king hasn’t seemed like himself lately, making capricious attacks on those around him, Christine’s mother, Francesca, urges her daughter to keep her head down. That’s not easy for Christine, who has a sharp tongue and a lot of opinions for a woman, qualities that draw her to the musical and similarly candid Alix de Clairy, the wife of one of the king’s closest confidants, Hughues de Précy. Despite Francesca’s admonitions, Christine doesn’t confine her daily conversations to the elite; she speaks to the prostitutes of Paris about the gossip of the day. This habit turns out to be helpful when unusual events happen on the palace grounds: a murder, a missing magical book, and the apparent possession and hunting of those close to the king. Even worse, Alix is accused of the murder of her husband and is locked in the Châtelet as she awaits the inevitable guilty verdict. Through Marion, a sex worker in her neighborhood, Christine learns that Alix has been framed, but both Christine and Marion know that no one will take her word about what truly happened. Bent on justice, Christine does what investigating she can along with her monastic friend, Michel. The two both work their palace connections and contacts to follow the complex web of secrets, though it seems unlikely that the truth will be uncovered before Alix is burned for her alleged crimes.

Peppered with quaintly dated quotations about the roles of women in the 14th century and related facts, Bayard’s mystery debut is slow to get underway but ramps up to a satisfying ending.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7278-8788-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Severn House

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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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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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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