A fast-paced, highly entertaining hybrid of Tony Hillerman and Edward Abbey.

PICNIC IN THE RUINS

The fourth novel by Petersen is part mystery; part quirky, darkly funny, mayhem-filled thriller; and part meditation on what it means to "own" land, artifacts, and the narrative of history in the West.

Sophia Shepard is a Princeton anthropology Ph.D. student whose outspokenness has resulted in a kind of exile to remote southern Utah, where she's giving talks to busloads of visitors and studying tourist impacts on Native American sites. In Kanab she crosses paths with the Ashdowns, two sinister brothers, criminals who've botched a burglary, hastily half-covered the mess they made, and absconded with one of the artifact maps they were supposed to deliver. Soon a ruthless fixer—he's an ex–stage magician, the kind of amusing and fanciful touch that elevates this book—is on the Ashdowns' trail, and when Sophia stumbles across the brothers trying to excavate a back-country Paiute site with a stolen backhoe, hell breaks loose. Soon she—along with a roguish Department of the Interior agent she's befriended and a German dermatologist embarked on a hybrid of tourist jaunt and vision quest that has left him lost and disoriented in the desert—is being hunted by the fixer, too. Along the way they, and we, encounter a cybertech pioneer who's now a high-tech hermit; a famed video game deviser; a recently divorced small-town sheriff; a widow suffering the beginnings of dementia; and more. Petersen keeps piling on plot twists, eccentric characters, and well-described settings, and beneath the plot's pandemonium there's an intriguing meditation on "authenticity," on "ownership," and on the legacy of violence in the remote West.

A fast-paced, highly entertaining hybrid of Tony Hillerman and Edward Abbey.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64009-322-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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A mixed bag that leaves the reader hanging.

THE CABINET OF DR. LENG

Constance Greene, ageless protégé of FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast, travels back to 1880s New York—the time and place of her childhood—to save the world from the evil Dr. Enoch Leng and prevent him from killing her two siblings.

Taken off the meanest streets of New York by Leng when she was 9, Constance was given an experimental elixir by him that succeeded in dramatically slowing down her aging process. More than a century later, now under Pendergast's wing, she is only 20 in physical terms. After belatedly discovering that the essential ingredient of the elixir was taken from the spines of young women, including her older sister, she uses the time machine that appeared in Bloodless (2021) to return to old stomping grounds—where, bizarrely, she encounters her own 9-year-old self. Posing as an Eastern European aristocrat, she insinuates herself into New York society to get next to the falsely celebrated Leng—who has taken the elixir himself—with the aim of killing him. Meanwhile, desperate to protect her from harm—and prevent her from getting stuck in that alternative dimension—Pendergast has the one-use-only time machine retooled. In a largely unconnected plot, his Native American FBI colleague Armstrong Coldmoon investigates two murders connected to the theft of precious Lakota artifacts from a South Dakota reservation. Played as a straight mystery, this part of the novel is efficiently done, if not as much fun as the SF stuff, but it ultimately seems like a time-killing device for the authors. After more than 400 pages, they go the "To Be Continued" route, apologizing for the "inconclusive ending." Now they tell us.

A mixed bag that leaves the reader hanging.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2023

ISBN: 9781538736777

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 29, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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