Saturday, October 3, 2020

Book Review: Old Bones (Nora Kelly Book 1) by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

What Do Grave-Robbing and Murder Have in Common?

Grave-robbing and murder. Those two crimes are perhaps not the most common of bedfellows, but they make for some fascinating reading in Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s new series, Old Bones. The hero of this new set of tales is familiar—at least for readers of the Pendergast series by the same authors—Nora Kelly, archaeologist. When she is approached by Clive Benton, Stanford-educated historian, to lead an archaeological expedition in search for the “Lost Camp” of the ill-fated Donner Party, a compelling historical setting is added to the story (the Donner Party was believed to have resorted to cannibalism to survive when they became snow-bound in the California mountains in 1847). But to sell the expensive archaeological expedition to Nora’s boss, Benton adds evidence that one of the party was carrying gold, now worth 20 million dollars. That, of course, is sufficient motive for murder, but wait. Two murders occurred before the expedition even started. And both happened in the context of grave-robbing where all that was apparently taken was part of a skeleton. Since when is a skull worth killing for? That question remains until the final pages of the novel.

It is via one of these murders at a grave site that a second, familiar name is added to the tale. Corrie Swanson, an angry, bullied teenager when first introduced in the Pendergast series is now a freshly minted FBI agent. And when one of the grave-robbers is executed on federal land, she is given the case—her first. She finds another similar murder and a disappearance, all connected because they were the descendants of a Donner Party member, Albert Parkin. Convinced that Nora Kelly’s expedition is just a cover for robbing Parkin’s grave, Agent Swanson joins the archaeological team on site. Sparks fly between the women, Swanson believing she is on the trail of a crime, it’s exact nature unknown, while Kelly sees the agent as nothing but a waste of time and money. But then, things start getting deadlier.

Preston and Child are exceptional story-tellers and this novel is no exception. The pace is good, the mystery compelling, the characters developed. There were a few places when relatively minor events were dealt with in greater detail than necessary to advance the plot, but these were rare. About my only concern of any significance is the way the authors linked the quite disparate crimes of stealing a skeleton and killing. To do so required two, quite dissimilar approaches to a single objective. In other words, the twist felt a bit strained.

Overall, Old Bones is a solid start to a new series and I look forward to the next installment. Let’s see what Nora gets herself into next time.

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