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by William S. Kirby
Tor/Forge, $26.99, 318pp
Published: September 2015

Having received this book to review, I was expecting a fantasy; but this is a straight-forward solid mystery.

Justine is an American supermodel touring around Europe on a special photo shoot for a book.  There is a set of antique wooden life-sized manikins that are the subject of the photo book and the mystery centers around them.  The first chapter teases us with the image of the manikin moving – changing its posture – which Justine notices.  This is where I expected the fantasy to emerge but the change in the manikin was purely human-made.  To the shadowy evil-doers, the change was not expected to be noticed and they are willing to kill to keep their secret.  But the real secret is something hidden within each manikin two hundred years earlier.  But those items are not the end game, they are only a cipher to an older mystery – a lost royal treasure. 

While in Brussels, Justine goes with a young woman she met at a club and spends the night with her.  For a one-night stand, which is what Justine expected, it unexpectedly turned into much more.  The young woman, Vienna, is an autistic savant with unsettling weaknesses and baffling talents. And she seems to be protected by people in power…or, maybe she’s being threatened by said people.  In any event, both Justine and the shadow killers realize Vienna might be the key to using the cipher and finding a fabulous treasure.

Plot sounds pretty good, right?  And, as far as the plot goes, it’s not bad.  The writer is competent and can tell a story; but I found it a bit tedious.  Aside from my first observation that this is not fantasy, my biggest quibble is the dialogue.  The author tries to keep the dialogue spare by not including pronouns.  After several exchanges, I found myself counting backwards so I could determine who was speaking.  The reader shouldn’t have to work that hard.  My second quibble is the plethora of adjectives – not quite purple prose, but abundantly near to that mark.  (Now I sound like the book!)  Too much of the book was taken up in trying to show us the world through Vienna’s eyes and demonstrating the depth of Justine’s attachment in how she, alone of all the world, was able to interpret and understand Vienna’s ramblings.  But there was not sufficient demonstration of how Justine was able to make those leaps of logic.  I would also quibble that the introduction of the chief villain was early in the book and then he disappeared until the very climax; in mysteries, I think the reader should be given opportunity to see ‘it’ coming. That’s part of the fun of reading a mystery.

While I cannot, unreservedly, recommend this book, I suspect it will appeal to some.  The extravagant descriptions and the otherworldliness of Vienna will be an attraction; just not to me. ~~  Catherine Book

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