Winspear (To Die but Once, 2018, etc.) advances Maisie’s inspiring activities, highlights the bravery of an embattled people...

THE AMERICAN AGENT

An intrepid British investigator continues her war efforts.

September 1940 finds England nightly suffering the horrors of the Blitz. The morning after volunteer ambulance drivers Maisie Dobbs and her best friend, Priscilla Partridge, spend an evening with Catherine Saxon, an American print reporter who hopes to work for Edward R. Murrow, whose radio reports have done so much to change America’s isolationist views, Maisie gets a call from Robbie MacFarlane, whose hush-hush job has required her services before. Acting on the recommendation of American agent Mark Scott, whom Maisie met while spying in Germany, Robbie asks her to investigate a murder—that of Catherine Saxon, whose throat was cut in her own lodgings sometime after her night out with Maisie and Priscilla. Maisie—a widow, nurse, spy, psychologist, and independent enquiry agent—finds Scott strangely uninterested in the case, perhaps because he has his own fish to fry. Maisie’s first look at the body reveals marks of a strangulation attempt, a tiny tattoo of the initials JT, and signs of a prior pregnancy. She interviews Cath’s best friend, Jennifer Barrington, and also the other women living in the house. Cath comes from a wealthy political family. Her father, an isolationist senator who just wanted her to make an advantageous marriage, had virtually cut her off. Jennifer acknowledges that Cath had a child who died while she was reporting in Spain. She can’t name the father, but she does know that Cath has dated an American flying with the RAF and has been visited by other unidentified men. Maisie gets some help from Scott, and their partnership tacks toward romance, but his calculated reserve prevents her from trusting him. After Priscilla is badly burned rescuing several children, Maisie has more time to devote to her investigation, whose disparate clues will lead to a shocking finale.

Winspear (To Die but Once, 2018, etc.) advances Maisie’s inspiring activities, highlights the bravery of an embattled people during the Second World War, and intimates that lessons from that period have yet to be learned.

Pub Date: March 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-243666-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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