MURDER ON "B" DECK

The suspects are types and the big reveal’s a big letdown, but this urbane, facetious tale will score with nostalgia buffs.

Sherlock-ian Starrett’s first mystery, originally published in 1929, invites readers to return to those civilized days when murder was part of the package on trans-Atlantic cruises.

Mystery novelist Dunstan Mollock hasn’t even booked passage on the SS Latakia; he’s just come to see off his sister, Mavis, and her bridegroom, Todd Osborne. But when a last-minute search for a book puts him back aboard the ship after it’s cast off, he decides this might as well be the trip to Europe he’s never taken before. His pleasure is redoubled when he meets attractive whodunit fan Dhu Harrington and reconnects with his old school friend Walter Ghost, psychologist, explorer, and “the perfect amateur.” No sooner has Mollock settled into his accidental voyage than it’s upended by the death of Countess Lulu Fogartini, who’s been strangled in her stateroom and had her neck broken to boot. Since Capt. Porter knows of Ghost’s work with government intelligence, he asks him to lead the investigation, whose sole clue seems to be a pair of “luck dolls” of the sort the countess had been knitting ever since she was a girl in Cincinnati. Metafictional touches abound. Mollock treats his fellow passengers to a reading of his latest whodunit, which features Starrett sleuth Jimmie Lavender, and Ghost and Mollock puzzle over The House of Mystery, a film starring the countess and a man who may just be her killer.

The suspects are types and the big reveal’s a big letdown, but this urbane, facetious tale will score with nostalgia buffs.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-61316-278-1

Page Count: 235

Publisher: American Mystery Classics

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2021

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

EVERYONE IN MY FAMILY HAS KILLED SOMEONE

This book and its author are cleverer than you and want you to know it.

In this mystery, the narrator constantly adds commentary on how the story is constructed.

In 1929, during the golden age of mysteries, a (real-life) writer named Ronald Knox published the “10 Commandments of Detective Fiction,” 10 rules that mystery writers should obey in order to “play fair.” When faced with his own mystery story, our narrator, an author named Ernest Cunningham who "write[s] books about how to write books," feels like he must follow these rules himself. The story seemingly begins on the night his brother Michael calls to ask him to help bury a body—and shows up with the body and a bag containing $267,000. Fast-forward three years, and Ernie’s family has gathered at a ski resort to celebrate Michael’s release from prison. The family dynamics are, to put it lightly, complicated—and that’s before a man shows up dead in the snow and Michael arrives with a coffin in a truck. When the local cop arrests Michael for the murder, things get even more complicated: There are more deaths; Michael tells a story about a coverup involving their father, who was part of a gang called the Sabers; and Ernie still has (most of) the money and isn’t sure whom to trust or what to do with it. Eventually, Ernie puts all the pieces together and gathers the (remaining) family members and various extras for the great denouement. As the plot develops, it becomes clear that there’s a pretty interesting mystery at the heart of this novel, but Stevenson’s postmodern style has Ernie constantly breaking the fourth wall to explain how the structure of his story meets the criteria for a successful detective story. Some readers are drawn to mysteries because they love the formula and logic—this one’s for them. If you like the slow, sometimes-creepy, sometimes-comforting unspooling of a good mystery, it might not be your cup of tea—though the ending, to be fair, is still something of a surprise.

This book and its author are cleverer than you and want you to know it.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-06-327902-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Mariner Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2022

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