DHARMA

A REKHA RAO MYSTERY

A polished, confident whodunit brimming with personality and the right amount of intrigue and mayhem.

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An amateur sleuth investigates the murders of her father and her university mentor.

The star of this debut mystery is Rekha Rao, an Indian American art history professor caught in the middle of a violent nightmare. The Southern California–based story opens with Rao being unceremoniously notified by police about the heinous murder of her mentor, archaeology professor Joseph Faust. He was bludgeoned to death with a Hindu goddess statue possibly absconded from his excavation site in India. Rao is asked to assist in supplying information on a possible motive for Faust’s murder, but she’s still reeling from the devastatingly traumatic effects of the senseless killing of her own father, a physician bludgeoned to death in his clinic just three years earlier. That homicide became even more complex after a janitor was arrested for the crime. But when Rao insisted the accused was innocent and that police reopen the case, they refused. When one of her students is brought in for questioning and then arrested in connection with Faust’s murder, Rao knows she needs to work fast to find answers as various suspicions, accusations, and suspects (including Faust’s wife and his cross-dressing son) begin orbiting the criminal inquiry. Rao also becomes increasingly frustrated with the general pace of the police-led investigation and, against Pasadena Police Detective Al Newton’s advice, begins her own amateur sleuthing, which puts her directly in harm’s way.

Rao is an instantly likable character whose respect for her family and her Indian heritage makes her a courageous, determined, reliable, believable, and humanitarian heroine for readers to cheer as she perilously attempts to piece together both crimes. “My goal to take care of all my dharmas was not a facetious one,” the protagonist reflects. Her undeniable attraction to the confident, handsome senior homicide detective creates some added romantic tension and another layer of intrigue to the narrative. Playing out over the course of just a few months, the story demonstrates Kumari’s uncanny knack for putting all of her characters and crimes in place and tying up loose ends in an economy of pages. Combining Hinduism, Hindu mythology, old jealousies and grudges, family melodrama, hidden secrets, and another death, the novel presents a winning recipe for an absorbing read. While the tale has many plot elements continuously spinning, the academic-turned–actress-and-author keeps a firm grip on the main plotline, which she skillfully and quite suspensefully brings to a boil once the perpetrator of Faust’s death is established and the race for justice moves into full swing. Though a newcomer to the mystery genre, Kumari establishes herself here as a writer with ingenuity. She presents a satisfying crime tale with appealing characters who embody vivid and unique cultural perspectives. Delivering a smoothly written, impressive series opener, the author is a new mystery writer to watch.

A polished, confident whodunit brimming with personality and the right amount of intrigue and mayhem.

Pub Date: March 13, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-938394-42-3

Page Count: 302

Publisher: Great Life Press

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

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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  • New York Times Bestseller

NONE OF THIS IS TRUE

It's hard to read but hard to look away from.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

When two women who share a birthday meet, a journalist becomes the subject of her own true-crime mystery.

On their 45th birthdays, Josie Fair and Alix Summer meet at a pub and discover they were born not only on the same day, but in the same hospital. Alix is a successful journalist, and Josie convinces Alix that her story is worth telling: Josie met her husband when she was 13 and he was 40. “I can see that maybe I was being used, that maybe I was even being groomed?” she confesses to Alix. “But that feeling of being powerful, right at the start, when I was still in control. I miss that sometimes. I really do. And what I’d like, more than anything, is to get it back.” From this premise Alix creates a Netflix series, Hi! I’m Your Birthday Twin! which investigates Josie’s life as she reconciles what happened to her as a teen and seeks a new path. With the story unfinished, the narrative unfolds in the present tense, with prose that jingles like song lyrics: “He turns to see if the girl is behind him, and sees her wishy-washy, wavy-wavy, in double vision through the glass windows of the hotel.” Alix is both intrigued and repulsed by Josie, but she initially gives her the benefit of the doubt. After all, Alix’s husband, Nathan, has a drinking problem, and Alix knows what it’s like to be reluctant to leave a bad situation. But Josie seems more interested in being part of Alix’s seemingly glamorous life than she is in fixing her own, and when three people end up dead and Alix’s life is turned upside down, the evidence points to Josie—and turns the TV series into a murder mystery. Transcripts from Alix’s interviews alternate with the narrative, offering increasingly varied perspectives on Josie’s story as told by her neighbors, friends, and family members. With so many versions of events, the ending shatters, leaving readers to decide whose is the truth.

It's hard to read but hard to look away from.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2023

ISBN: 9781982179007

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2023

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