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George Ernsberger
Posted 7/16/21

The Wonder Test by Michelle Richmond (Atlantic Monthly Press).

First-rate espionage novel—but then some; then quite a lot, in fact. The intrepid FBI operative, a displaced New Yorker in …

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The Wonder Test by Michelle Richmond (Atlantic Monthly Press).

First-rate espionage novel—but then some; then quite a lot, in fact. The intrepid FBI operative, a displaced New Yorker in Silicon Valley, is not a superhero but the recently widowed mother of a teen-aged boy who’s as irritating and also lovable as a teen-aged boy can be (the “wonder test” is a peculiar one he faces at his very progressive new school). And this is no comic strip; the emotionally charged parts are made real, with frights and sorrows, without neglecting the high-tension spy parts (or even the deftly observed California crankiness parts). So, a lot goes on, but it never forgets to be an espionage novel, and that tension never lets up. And this is an operative we’ll be glad to follow anywhere.

The Comeback by Ella Berman (Berkley).

Big paperback reprint of last year’s really satisfying, actually inspiring, first novel. It describes like a problem novel, and a problem that’s old news, by now. A young movie actress is sexually bullied by a powerful director, and that’s made real and uncomfortable. But she goes home, a small town, and sorts herself out, and that’s real and convincing, too. And she comes back, to herself and to her career, and—well, and as much as I seem to have given away, there’s plenty more to live through with her. She’s terrific, convincingly smart and tough without being hard, and Berman is the real deal; we never doubt the depth of her understanding of today’s very complicated world. (It isn’t only L.A., you know.)

The Bone Code by Kathy Reichs (Scribner).

A Temperance Brennan novel, just a year after her most recent, so Reichs may be back on her routine (and she wasn’t idle, recall, in that three-year gap—doing other things, but still writing and publishing, not knitting). This one kicks off with the discovery in South Carolina of two bodies that are eerily reminiscent of an old case—in Montreal (remember Tempe in Montreal?).

An Irish Heritage by Charles Todd (Morrow). Maybe because Nurse Crawford travels, the Bess Crawford series seems to me, on the balance scale between historical fiction and crime fiction, about a degree and a half closer to the historical fiction end than this team’s equally great and slightly older Inspector Rutledge series (also with its baseline in the Great War, but it has come a little farther forward in time). She’s in Ireland, here, and the stubborn, still angry aftermath of the Great Uprising of 1916 is a factor in this novel.

Dog Eat Dog by David Rosenfelt (Minotaur).

I may be the only human who gives real attention to all three of these series (and heaven knows how many other odd specialties or special oddities). But there are, these days, an invaluable lot of, yes, oddly assorted writers who are skilled and energetic and respectful of their readers and their characters, so I ain’t sorry a bit.

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