Monday, April 11, 2022

Book Review: The Scorpion's Tail (Nora Kelly Book 2) by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Archaeologist Kelly and FBI Agent Swanson Reprise their Uneasy Partnership

The Scorpion’s Tail sees the reluctant partnership of Nora Kelly, archaeologist, and Corrie Swanson, FBI Agent, reprised to solve a historical mystery. I say reluctant as each of the women describe the other as a “pain in the ass” and nothing in the initial setting for this novel changes that. Corrie has been given what she sees as a make-work case—examining a fifty-year-old corpse discovered on federal land—and only calls in Nora as a necessary unpleasantry for recovering the remains. Nora, on the other hand, is competing for a promotion at work with a newly hired, male senior curator. So, when Corrie comes to ask the favor, Nora hopes that the agent isn’t “… going to throw her current dig into the extended chaos she had with the previous one.

The book is classified as a “historical mystery” on Amazon, although the whodunit element seems to fade about halfway through as the villain begins to tip his hand. Why this foe would be committing all the crimes that occur during the story, however, remains a mystery and the authors work this question into what might be considered a twist. To me, however, it felt more like a dividing of the storyline and by the end, Corrie and Nora are leading almost independent investigations into the case. But because one of these threads lacks suspense and the other feels out-of-the-blue, the ending lacked impact. Two weak endings put together does not equal one strong one.

Besides the end, there were a couple of other aspects of the book that I found disappointing. For one, attention is paid to the sexist environment in which Corrie and Nora find themselves—the male-dominated world of the FBI in the former case and competition for promotion in the latter. Unfortunately, Preston and Child’s treatment of the issue is heavy-handed in places. But to make the matter worse, Agent Pendergast makes an appearance at the end to solve the crime as if the two women aren’t capable of doing it themselves. Second, Corrie takes every opportunity to characterize this case as penance for her mistake on a previous domestic disturbance incident to the point where it is affecting her job performance. Even her boss says, “I’m going to give you an assignment, and you might find it a difficult one. I can summarize it in two words: don’t brood.” But what makes her feelings even less understandable is the fact that she is doing exactly what a forensic anthropologist is trained to do in criminal cases—determine identity and cause of death from skeletal remains. How did she specialize in this area during her FBI training and not realize that many of the cases would be exactly like this?

But despite these limitations, I greatly enjoyed the book; I like Preston and Child’s storytelling style. However, in future novels, I hope Corrie will shed some of her self-doubt and embrace her career path. Hopefully, Nora will recognize she enjoys the riddles of crime almost as much as the mystery of archeology. And hopefully, in future books, neither of them will need a man to solve the crime.

See on Amazon:

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