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THE STRANGER VANISHES

While the mystery of the moment suffices, the real treat is the slow-growing development of the characters.

An innkeeper in a Spirit-filled little New York town hopes a 19th-century diary will help her find the whereabouts of a missing guest.

Juneteenth marks a year since Bella Jordan came to Lily Dale with her young son, Max. The cottage community isn’t the sort of place she thought she’d end up after the sudden death of her husband, Sam, but it turns out to be the perfect spot to heal and renew herself. While most of the community is involved in the woo-woo—think clairvoyance and natural healing—Bella’s job as the local innkeeper keeps her engaged in the community without obliging her to draw on a connection to the town’s capital-S Spirit. Not that she doesn’t feel some sort of connection to Spirit, but she’s not yet ready to open herself to it. When Max spends his first night away from home at a sleepover with mischievous neighbor Jiffy, Bella’s left alone to welcome an unanticipated visitor to the inn. Lemuel is a soft-spoken Black man whom Bella implicitly trusts when she sees his gentleness with her cats, Chance and Spidey. Even though her boyfriend, local vet Drew Bailey, has discouraged Bella from opening the place to guests when she’s alone, she’s not worried when she offers Lemuel the Seaside Room for the night. But the next day, Lemuel has vanished without a trace except for the satchel he’s left behind. Worrying overnight about Lemuel’s disappearance, Bella wonders if the old diary in his bag might have clues. As Bella reads the diary, the thoughts of a young woman in the 1800s, she begins to wonder if a link to the past may provide answers about her missing guest.

While the mystery of the moment suffices, the real treat is the slow-growing development of the characters.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-7278-5017-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Severn House

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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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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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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