I don’t always like mysteries. Maybe some mystery writers are so focused on spinning a web, leaving enough clues but not enough, that they neglect to build strong characters – protagonists readers root for, villains hidden in plain sight, secondary and tertiary characters lurking around as a diversionary tactic. Without that, I don’t care if the helpless blonde dies or if the ex-boyfriend gets his comeuppance. Too often, I figure out who the murderer is by chapter three.
But in Old Bones (Grand Central Publishing), Preston and Child have created a fine mix of fiction and historical fact. The story is peopled by complex and engaging characters with sometimes murky ambitions.
There’s Special Agent Corinne Swanson, who practically stumbles around trying to figure out why the corpses of people named Parkin are going missing, often literally losing their heads. A young, newly minted FBI agent, Swanson is eager to prove herself, while failing to come to any conclusions.
Competing for center stage is Dr. Nora Kelly of the Santa Fe Archeological Institute. Kelly is excavating a prehistoric Pueblo ruin when the unsettlingly handsome Clive Benton appears wearing an equally unsettling ugly paisley shirt. He is a historian and distant relative of one of the members of the doomed Donner party which is historically notorious for eating each other.
Things happen fast. By chapter three, we’ve already got a suspicious delivery on a dark Paris street (the messenger stabbed, chained to a kick scooter and tossed into the Seine) and a robbery (the thief only barely escaping with what he came for). Chapter four brings the back story and explains the title: Benton wants to explore a theory of his which requires locating and excavating the remains of an old Donner Party campsite.
Albert Parkin, one of the victims, is what brings our girl Swanson onto the scene. She wants to solve the mystery of the disappearing Parkin corpses and recent Parkin murders; Benton and the Archeological Institute are motivated by less noble objectives.
Kelly, Swanson and Benton take off on horseback with a handful of helpers, including an excitable cook and a moody horse wrangler. The search party is haunted by the grisly stories of death and cannibalism, details of which keep cropping up to make the journey unnerving and more than a typical archeological dig.
That Old Bones is rooted so firmly in historical fact makes it an absorbing read. Even the ending, which seems far-fetched, is definitely, disturbingly possible.
Old Bones serves as a great introduction to Preston and Child since it is first in a new series. It will be available for purchase on August 20.
About Preston and Child
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are coauthors of over twenty bestselling novels.
Preston’s bestselling nonfiction book, “The Monster of Florence,” is being made into a major motion picture. His interests include horses, scuba diving, skiing, and exploring the Maine coast in an old lobster boat.
Child is a former book editor who has published four bestselling novels of his own. He is passionate about motorcycles, exotic parrots, and nineteenth-century English literature.