LAST RITUALS

A TALE OF SECRET SYMBOLS, MEDIEVAL WITCHCRAFT, AND MODERN MURDER

Some of the nuances seem to have been lost in translation, but the meat of the mystery is suspenseful, compelling and unique.

An Icelandic lawyer helps investigate the murder and mutilation of a witchcraft-obsessed student.

When wealthy German student Harald Guntlieb is found dead in the history department of his Reykjavik university, his parents are dissatisfied with the police investigation and unconvinced that the drug dealer they have arrested is the actual culprit. They send a business associate and family friend, Matthew Reich, to Iceland to conduct his own investigation, and hire local lawyer and single mother Thóra Gudmundsdóttir to assist him. There are several troubling elements about the case—most notably the fact that, though Harald was killed by asphyxiation, his eyes were also gouged out and a bizarre symbol carved on his chest. These oddities are consistent with Harald’s lifestyle—he participated in deviant sexual practices and bizarre body art. More importantly, he had an intense academic, personal and even social interest in Medieval witchhunts, and had formed a bizarre student society dedicated to it. Matthew and Thóra question the members of the society and find them suspicious, particularly Harald’s closest friend, a medical student named Dóri. Together, they trace Harald and Dóri’s various activities, including an illegal surgery that Dóri performed on Harald’s tongue and a trip they took together in search of an ancient manuscript. And while Harald inherited his passion for witchcraft from a like-minded grandfather, Thóra determines that his relationship with the rest of his family was tenuous at best. Meanwhile, important letters have gone missing from the university, and an arrogant professor named Gunnar is convinced that Harald was behind their disappearance. In a bizarre subplot, Thóra is drawn back to the homefront when she finds out that her 15-year-old son is going to be a father. When Harald’s former landlord finds some key additional evidence, the police arrest Dóri, but Thóra and Matthew still worry that pieces are missing. They tie up the loose ends, free the innocent, apprehend new suspects and, rather predictably, fall in love.

Some of the nuances seem to have been lost in translation, but the meat of the mystery is suspenseful, compelling and unique.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-06-114336-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2007

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

BADLANDS

A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be...

Box takes another break from his highly successful Joe Pickett series (Stone Cold, 2014, etc.) for a stand-alone about a police detective, a developmentally delayed boy, and a package everyone in North Dakota wants to grab.

Cassandra Dewell can’t leave Montana’s Lewis and Clark County fast enough for her new job as chief investigator for Jon Kirkbride, sheriff of Bakken County. She leaves behind no memories worth keeping: her husband is dead, her boss has made no bones about disliking her, and she’s looking forward to new responsibilities and the higher salary underwritten by North Dakota’s sudden oil boom. But Bakken County has its own issues. For one thing, it’s cold—a whole lot colder than the coldest weather Cassie’s ever imagined. For another, the job she turns out to have been hired for—leading an investigation her new boss doesn’t feel he can entrust to his own force—makes her queasy. The biggest problem, though, is one she doesn’t know about until it slaps her in the face. A fatal car accident that was anything but accidental has jarred loose a stash of methamphetamines and cash that’s become the center of a battle between the Sons of Freedom, Bakken County’s traditional drug sellers, and MS-13, the Salvadorian upstarts who are muscling in on their territory. It’s a setup that leaves scant room for law enforcement officers or for Kyle Westergaard, the 12-year-old paperboy damaged since birth by fetal alcohol syndrome, who’s walked away from the wreck with a prize all too many people would kill for.

A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be welcome to return and tie up the gaping loose end Box leaves. The unrelenting cold makes this the perfect beach read.

Pub Date: July 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-58321-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: April 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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