Thanks to the Grand Central Publishing for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: August 20th, 2019
Synopsis: #1 bestselling authors Preston & Child bring the true story of the ill-fated Donner Party to new life in a thrilling blend of archaeology, history, murder, and suspense.
Nora Kelly, a young curator with the Santa Fe Institute of Archeology is approached by historian Clive Benton with a once-in-a-lifetime proposal: to lead a team in search of the so-called “Lost Camp” of the tragic Donner Party. This was a group of pioneers who earned a terrible place in American history when they became snowbound in the California mountains in 1847, their fate unknown, until the first skeletonized survivors stumbled out of the wilderness, raving about starvation, murder, and cannibalism.
Benton tells Kelly he has stumbled upon an amazing find: the long-sought diary of one of the victims, which has an enigmatic description of the Lost Camp. Nora agrees to lead an expedition to locate and excavate it—-to reveal its long-buried secrets.
Once in the mountains, however, they learn that discovering the camp is only the first step in a mounting journey of fear. For as they uncover old bones, they expose the real truth of what happened, one that is far more shocking and bizarre than mere cannibalism. And when those ancient horrors lead to present day violence on a grand scale, rookie FBI agent, Corrie Swanson is assigned the case…only to find that her first investigation might very well be her last.
The bad news for fans of Aloysius Pendergast, is that he doesn’t make an appearance in Old Bones until the epilogue. The good news is that while I personally deeply missed him, Preston & Child have taken one of my favorite secondary characters in the Pendergast series, and given her wings.
Nora was actually the main character in Thunderhead (1999). As the Pendergast series took off, she became a strong supporting character, featuring predominantly in the Diogenes trilogy. If after waiting for a year for a new book by the authors, I couldn’t have this feature my Pendergast, I couldn’t have asked for a better person to take the reins.
Joining Nora is another Pendergast supporting character, Corrie Swanson, who having been mentored by Pendergast, is now making her solo debut as an FBI agent. Both Nora and Corrie are strong-willed women, so to say they initially bump heads is putting it mildly. Nora is much more established and comfortable in her career, whereas Corrie is eager to prove herself and as a result, doesn’t always play well with others. I liked the way their relationship developed and by the end of the book they turned into quite a formidable team. I’m hoping Corrie makes more appearances in future books because they make quite a dynamic pairing.
The storyline itself is fascinating and vintage Preston and Child. Taking the historical tragedy of the Donner Party, and blending it with a modern-day sinister conspiracy was sheer genius. While it was obvious after only a few chapters in, that the shadowy organization behind grave robbings and killings were interested in a particular member of the doomed pioneers, I was in the dark until the last part of the book as to the question of why. Likewise, I was completely surprised regarding the unmasking of the villains who Nora and Corrie come into personal contact with. Once the big reveal came though, I had one of those “Aha!” moments because everything came together and made sense.
The only reason why I’m not giving this 5 stars is because as enjoyable as the characters and the blending of history with a contemporary conspiracy thriller were, there was a certain multi-layered complexity that are always a big part of the Pendergast books, that was missing here. Also, I’m usually literally chewing my nails while devouring a Pendergast tale but here, while I definitely had an avid interest in what was going on, I wasn’t quite so desperate about it. That said, Old Bones is a fun and entertaining introduction to this new series, and I’m looking forward to more (hopefully after a new Pendergast novel comes out though!) For those of you who haven’t read the Pendergast series, but are getting tired of my ravings about it, this is an excellent place to begin your introduction into the wonderfully weird, creepy, mysterious, always intriguing and exciting world of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child!
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