A treasure trove of Victoriana, especially for foodies. More history than mystery but a truly delightful read.

ABOVE THE BAY OF ANGELS

A split-second decision is life-changing in this stand-alone Victorian-era mystery from Bowen (Love and Death Among the Cheetahs, 2019, etc.).

Isabella Waverly’s father is an aristocrat estranged from his family who’s fallen so far in the world that he sent his oldest daughter out to work as a servant at 15. Her only joy is learning to cook. When a girl is run over by an omnibus before her eyes, Bella automatically picks up an envelope the dead girl had been clutching. The envelope contains an invitation to apply for an under-cook position at Buckingham Palace that very day. Introducing herself as Helen Barton, Bella snags the job. She hides her new position from Louisa, the younger sister who’s marrying the son of a well-off family. She struggles to immerse herself in the persona of a girl from Yorkshire, explaining her upper-class accent by saying her father was a gentleman. The only fly in the ointment is the appearance of Helen’s brother, who blackmails her into finding a job for him, too. Bella’s passion for cooking and her work ethic soon endear her to the mostly male staff. Queen Victoria, who has an enormous appetite for rich foods, so enjoys Bella’s scones that she personally asks her to make them every day. When her majesty travels to Nice, Bella goes along and gets to put her knowledge of French to use. She develops a semiromantic friendship with the head chef at the hotel, which was built especially for the queen. Indeed, her life seems idyllic until Count Wilhelm, the betrothed of Princess Sophie, dies, ostensibly from a poisoned mushroom Bella bought in a local market. Now she must juggle cooking and a suddenly active love life as she searches for a way to end her predicament.

A treasure trove of Victoriana, especially for foodies. More history than mystery but a truly delightful read.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-0825-9

Page Count: 348

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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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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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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