Captivating characters augment a taut, alluring mystery.

BEAR BONES

MURDER AT SLEEPING BEAR DUNES

A Michigan litigator tackles a murder case, coming to the aid of a man charged with killing his wife, in this fourth installment of a legal series.

Burr Lafayette has been working on a condemnation case for nearly seven years. The National Park Service has tried condemning all private property on uninhabited South Manitou Island, but Burr’s client, Helen Lockwood, will neither yield nor sell her cherry orchard. Burr has delayed a trial, which is essential since Helen has been missing for the past year. Her husband, Tommy, and her younger sisters, Karen Hansen and Lauren Littlefield, can’t decide if they want Helen legally declared dead so that they can sell the property to the Park Service. Sadly, someone ultimately finds Helen’s body on the island inside a shallow grave, with a bullet hole in her head. Shortly after, cops arrest Tommy, as his pistol was the homicide weapon and witnesses supposedly saw him riding the ferry on the day of her murder. Though criminal law isn’t Burr’s forte, he’s handled murder trials before. Tommy accepts his offer to help, and Burr sets about establishing reasonable doubt by tracking down “a few suspects.” Certainly, there are others who wanted Helen to sell the property and may very well have resorted to homicide. But the lawyer has a long road ahead: Aside from prosecutor Peter Brooks’ damning evidence against Burr’s client, Tommy is withholding pertinent information that makes it harder to defend him. He may even be hiding details that could prove he’s guilty.

Cutter’s recurring protagonist is not without his flaws. In one instance, Burr tries acquiring Helen’s death certificate before the coroner has even performed an autopsy, much to the chagrin of Tommy. But the attorney’s charm outweighs his more deplorable traits, and furthering his appeal are the delightful individuals surrounding him. His law partner, Jacob Wertheim, is an exceptional researcher but appalling in the courtroom while legal assistant Eve McGinty is perpetually assertive. The story’s highlight is Burr’s yellow Lab, Zeke, who’s typically at his side, including when the attorney becomes stranded overnight on South Manitou and later when he tries to get drinks (for the dog, he orders “Water. Straight up”). The mystery is sound, as Tommy may be the killer but the suspects Burr points his finger at have equally credible motives. While the lawyer is unquestionably taking the case seriously, his involvement in several humorous scenes gives the story a welcome lightheartedness. For example, his conversations with Eve via car phone (the tale is set in the 1990s) are comical: “You sound like you’re calling from a tornado,” she says during one of the few times she can hear him. Similarly, the narrative is largely free of violence, notwithstanding the murder. Burr’s courtroom squabbles with Brooks are more akin to bickering than heated arguments, and the protagonist tends to relieve stress by breaking pencils. The final act consists of Tommy’s trial, where Burr shines brightest, managing such obstacles as sustained objections and surprise witnesses with composure and panache.

Captivating characters augment a taut, alluring mystery. (acknowledgments, author bio)

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Mission Point Press

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

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

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