It’s bizarre, wacky, and broad—but highly entertaining, especially for fans of the Vonnegut/DFW school of the absurd.



A beguiling, idiosyncratic exercise in postmodern bafflement by the late artist/novelist Herrndorf (Why We Took the Car, 2014, etc.), awarded the Leipzig Book Fair Prize for it in 2012.

Somewhere along the coastal desert of northwestern Africa—Herrndorf isn’t specific, but it’s a former French colony, so perhaps Mali—four disaffected foreigners living in a commune have been killed in a murder whose payoff is a basket of fruit and a wicker suitcase full of an unknown currency. The case draws attention: There’s an American woman “best seen from afar”—no surprise that her last name and hotel room add up to the moniker of a far-distant star—and a Swedish double agent with nuclear secrets to sell. Then there are two cops assigned to the case, one of them a Frenchman who took the gig to get away from a girlfriend in Paris and who “didn’t have a clue about Africa.” He worries that he doesn’t have a clue about much of anything, since he scored lower on an intelligence test than his partner, who’s dumb enough to bring about his own demise thanks to a miscalculation having to do with the political influence of the prime suspect. Then there’s the guy whose head was bashed in and wanders in from the desert, an amnesiac, apparently well connected enough to international plots of derring-do that the Stasi, the CIA, and a sinister pseudo-psychiatrist are after him. Electrical shocks ensue, whereupon the amnesiac “talked about everything he knew, and he talked about the things he didn’t know, too.” In this rollicking shaggy-cum-sandy dog of a tale, no one knows much of anything, save that the badder the bad guy the more reliable the information. Herrndorf, it seems, had trouble deciding what this story would be—a satire? a spy novel? a thriller? Suffice it to say that if you mashed up the Ian Fleming of Casino Royale with Tin Drum–era Günter Grass and threw in a little Paul Bowles for leavening, you might get something approaching this concoction.

It’s bizarre, wacky, and broad—but highly entertaining, especially for fans of the Vonnegut/DFW school of the absurd.

Pub Date: June 19, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68137-201-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller


A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

Did you like this book?