A graceful mystery that pirouettes around a cast of entertaining narcissists.

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MURDER IN FIRST POSITION

AN ON POINTE MYSTERY

Metaphorical back-stabbing in a ballet troupe leads to the real thing in this whodunit.

The sprightly first installment of Robbins’ On Pointe Mystery series finds Leah Siderova, a 30-something principal dancer in New York City’s American Ballet Company, hoping to make a comeback from knee surgery by starring in hot choreographer Bryan Leister’s new work. She loses out to Arianna Bonneville, the company’s new ingénue, 10 years her junior and possessed of superlative talent and sly cruelty. (“I used to watch you dance when I was still a little girl,” she purrs to Leah.) When Leah finds Arianna in the costume room with dress shears planted in her back, all signs point to her as the perp because 1) she clumsily put her fingerprints on the murder weapon; 2) the whole company heard her threaten to cut the victim down during a tiff; and 3) when asked who attacked her, Arianna murmured “Leah” before expiring. Shrewd, handsome police detective Jonah Sobol likes Leah for the crime, and even her Uncle Morty, a lawyer, thinks she should cop a plea. But she’s determined to prove her innocence by finding the real killer. The suspects include Zarina Devereaux, an amoral French ballerina and rival of Arianna’s; various men and women who may have been sleeping with or jealous of the two dancers; and many corps de ballet peons whom the victim tormented. With the police closing in, Leah goes on the lam in disguise to continue her investigation—and discovers a world of salt-of-the-earth types very different from the ruthless denizens of her dancer’s bubble. In this limber yarn, Robbins, an ex–ballet dancer and author of Lesson Plan for Murder(2017), deploys her tartly witty prose to offer a delicious, well-observed sendup of the ballet world. The plot has red herrings, arbitrarily withheld evidence, and third act problems, but that doesn’t detract from the fun of watching Leah navigate atop her aching, blistered feet through the labyrinth of balletic cattiness and vanity (Zarina “peered around my shoulder to look in the mirror that hung behind me, checking to see that she was still as beautiful as she was five minutes earlier”). Readers will root for Leah as she sleuths her way through the troupe’s comic excesses.

A graceful mystery that pirouettes around a cast of entertaining narcissists.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-947915-74-9

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Level Best Books

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

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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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A bracing test of the maxim that “the department always comes first. The department always wins.”

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THE DARK HOURS

Meet today’s LAPD, with both good and bad apples reduced to reacting to crimes defensively instead of trying to prevent them, unless of course they’re willing to break the rules.

New Year’s Eve 2020 finds Detective Renée Ballard, survivor of rape and Covid-19, partnered with Detective Lisa Moore, of Hollywood’s Sexual Assault Unit, in search of leads on the Midnight Men, a tag team of rapists who assaulted women on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve without leaving any forensic evidence behind. The pair are called to the scene of a shooting that would have gone to West Bureau Homicide if the unit weren’t already stretched to the limit, a case that should be handed over to West Bureau ASAP. But Ballard gets her teeth into the murder of body shop owner Javier Raffa, who reportedly bought his way out of the gang Las Palmas. The news that Raffa’s been shot by the same weapon that killed rapper Albert Lee 10 years ago sends Ballard once more to Harry Bosch, the poster boy for retirements that drive the LAPD crazy. Both victims had taken on silent partners in order to liquidate their debts, and there’s every indication that the partners were linked. That’s enough for Ballard and Bosch to launch a shadow investigation even as Ballard, abandoned by Moore, who’s flown the coop for the weekend, works feverishly to identify the Midnight Men on her own. As usual in this stellar series, the path to the last act is paved with false leads, interdepartmental squabbles, and personal betrayals, and the structure sometimes sways in the breeze. But no one who follows Ballard and Bosch to the end will be disappointed.

A bracing test of the maxim that “the department always comes first. The department always wins.”

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-48564-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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