The latest spinoff from authors Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child features two feisty alums from a handful of the Pendergast series books, Dr. Nora Kelly and newly-minted Special Agent Corrie Swanson of the FBI.
Readers of the series will remember Nora Kelly is an archeologist and the wife of the late investigative reporter Bill Smithback, another series regular who was (spoilers!) tragically murdered in an earlier book. Nora has returned to her roots, working for the Santa Fe Archeological Institute, when she receives an offer to help find a lost camp of members of the infamous Donner party, where pioneers headed to California were stuck in a blizzard and resorted to cannibalism in an attempt to survive.
Meanwhile, Corrie Swanson, former Goth protégé of Pendergast, is a rookie at the FBI and anxious for her first real case. What comes her way is a series of grave robbing’s and a murder that are inexplicably linked to the same camp, and the same group of pioneers, that Nora’s expedition is about to uncover.
A theft of human bones, uncovered at the dig site, as well as a presumed accidental death and a murder lead Corrie to closing down the dig, bringing her into conflict with Nora, as well as the rest of the party and local law enforcement. However, events will soon occur that force the two strong women to rely on each other for survival.
This new book, the first of the planned “Nora Kelly series,” contains only a subtle hint of the paranormal energy that readers often encounter in books by these authors. An innocent child, a victim of the Donner tragedy and subject of campfire tales for the expedition, may or may not haunt members of the archeological support staff and render timely assistance on multiple occasions. However, in this case, as the authors are relying on real, historic events for their fictional plot, I think anymore of the normally present psychic energy would be a mistake. The small amount they include is affectionate and respectful of the “haunting” subject.
As an avid fan of these authors and the main “Pendergast” series, I have followed the development of the vast array of characters that populate this universe and am happy to see these two women, both who have been friendly and at odds with Pendergast in the past meet. Their introduction includes conflict and understanding, rivalry and mutual respect, and I am curious to see if Corrie Swanson appears again in the series. If anything, Pendergast’s cameo in the last chapter of the book seems to foreshadow this.
I sat down and read the bulk of this book overnight, something I seldom have the luxury to do, which should indicate how much I enjoyed it. Prior knowledge of the series/characters is helpful, but not necessary to enjoy it. For the record, I am giving this novel five stars, and would recommend it to any readers of detective stories, historical fiction, and any readers who enjoy action stories featuring strong female protagonists.