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Quit Monks or Die! Hardcover – September 15, 1999
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Penzler Pick, December 1999: A large cast of characters populates this elegant debut mystery by a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. The setting is southern California--a mostly sleepy town the main employer of which is a suddenly controversial research lab. The lab director, found dead in bizarre circumstances, left behind a few too many people who wished him such a fate, including members of his own family and staff. This classic setup is overseen by the local chief of police, one Digger Martinez. It's only his second homicide in 30 years and at 73 he's willing to admit that detecting hasn't been his thing. As he struggles to resist the donuts that are his downfall, he ambles around with shrewd geniality, asking a few questions here and there but mostly just waiting and listening well until the truth reveals itself. Everyone's hiding something, including the dead man's twin brother, his children (also twins), his wife, and a couple of young employees, one of whom herself soon winds up dead.
Readers sorting through the layers of culpability will find added color in runaway llamas, missing monkeys, an ecumenical Seder gone awry, kinky sex, and a rodeo rider scared to death of horses. Not to mention the animal rights activists: the violently inclined Bandits of Mercy. Digger Martinez is an appealing character, a fine invention by Kumin, whose taste is for the intelligently traditional even as she brings it squarely up to date. And the pleasure of reading this entertaining treatise on animal rights is enhanced by a handsome page design and typeface--a first-class production from a small publisher. --Otto Penzler
From Publishers Weekly
Here's a genuine sleeper: a small book from a nonprofit literary press ostensibly about the subject of animal rights, which turns out to be one of the best mysteries of the year. Of course, it helps that Kumin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet (Up Country, 1973), as well as a novelist, essayist and writer of memorable children's books. This short novel bristles with richly developed characters. There's the Baranoff family: Dr. Hal, the brilliant but widely disliked director of a psychological research institute in a small town on the edge of Southern California's desert; his fraternal twin brother, Vance, a once promising novelist now living on his brother's reluctant charity while consoling Hal's wife, Susie; Hal's own teenage fraternal twins, Rachel and Reuben, both disturbed by their father's experiments involving the effects of separating monkey mothers and babies. Around them circle a resourceful old police chief, a dying cowboy and a determined graduate student who is both Hal's kinky mistress and the person who handles the details of his cruel experiments. "Actually, she found acting out her daytime part more degrading than being a dominatrix," Kumin writes. "Sadomasochistic sex play was only a game. Behavioral psych was the gateway to a career." The plot is a masterpiece of construction: two kidnappings (one simian, one human) lead to two deaths (only one of which is obviously a murder). And while Kumin never actually misdirects, she doles out her essential pieces in such a fiendishly clever manner that not until the last few pages will even the sharpest readers be able to put the whole puzzle together. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.