cover image The Poison Artist

The Poison Artist

Jonathan Moore. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-544-52056-1

This exquisite tale of obsession from Bram Stoker Award–finalist Moore (Redheads) opens with Caleb Maddox, a toxicologist and pain researcher, looking in the mirror of a San Francisco hotel bathroom as he picks tiny shards of glass out of his bleeding forehead. A short time before, his live-in lover, now his ex-girlfriend, threw a tumbler in his face. “It was good glass. Murano crystal, maybe,” from a set they had bought at Macy’s just before she moved in a year earlier. Caleb later leaves the hotel and goes to a bar called the House of Shields, where he meets a mysterious absinthe-drinking woman, Emmeline, who mesmerizes him with a whisper and a titillating silken touch. Caleb’s hard-drinking week-plus pursuit of Emmeline parallels the serial killings that he has been secretly investigating with his oldest and closest friend, medical examiner Henry Newcomb. Male bodies have been washing up in the bay with evidence of unspeakable torture. The scientific lore and postmortem techniques may be more than some readers want to know, but the sympathetic, though brutally flawed hero and the shocking, Hitchcock-esque finale make this psychological thriller a must-read. Agent: Alice Martell, Martell Agency. (Jan.)