With this most recent offering from Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child — the Preston and Child of “Relic” fame and dozens of novels since — noted archeologist Dr. Nora Kelly teams with historian Clive Benton to set off on an epic adventure. Well, after about the halfway mark or so. There’s not much epic before that.
In search of the elusive third “Lost Camp” of the noted Donner dinner party in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Benton convinces Kelly and the Santa Fe Institute of Archaeology that not only are there human remains in those there hills, there’s gold — about $20 million in lost booty waiting to be claimed by the first finder.
But because there’s no such thing as easy money — or an easy lunch, as the Donner party found out — enter Special Agent Corrie Swanson, an FBI agent whiz newbie who makes a nebulous connection among the desecrated graves of Donner decedents, running her investigation directly into Kelly’s dig.
A slow build up ensues to this point where, really, there is much exposition — about the Donner party, the mountains, the investigation — but little in the form of action. A so-so middling story then picks up and turns into an acceptable mystery story, if … and only if … you can accept the deus ex machina in the form of Special Agent Pendergast (he of many previous famed novels) and a mysterious note (read: clue the reader wasn’t privy to until the end of the story).
Still, and getting past the cliches of sexism, et al. the female FBI rookie must endure, there is hope for the next Kelly-Swanson venture in terms of character and story development.
And, as Pendergast’s heavy-handed ending “and that is precisely why such a partnership just might work” indicates, that development is undoubtedly in the works as you read this now.