Book Review: Old Bones – by Preston & Child

Nora Kelly #1

Thriller, Mystery

Grand Central Publishing; August 20, 2019

384 pages (ebook)

3.5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to both NetGalley and Grand Central. All opinions are my own.

Contains Minor Spoilers for previous Pendergast novels

The latest Preston & Child offering provides Nora Kelly with her own spinoff, featuring Corrie Swanson. In short, yeah, it’s… okay. I mean, it could’ve been a lot worse.

Seven years have passed since the events of Cemetery Dance. Dr. Nora Kelly has moved on to New Mexico, working as an archaeologist for the premier Santa Fe Archaeological Institute—though she has yet to move past the death of her husband, William J. Smithback. Here she has made a home, friends, a dog, memories, and yet much still eludes her.

Enter Clive Benton (NOT Guy Porter, as the blurb informs me)—Clive Benton—historian, Donner Party descendant, and lost gold enthusiast. He approaches Nora with an opportunity involving all three, and asks for the Institute to fund it. And for $20 million in lost gold, they are off on an epic adventure.

“The Lost Camp”, as Benton refers to it, is a third and as-of-yet undiscovered camp in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which had suffered rampant cannibalism, unnerving even when compared to the known camps fates. Hiring a small party of outfitters, wranglers, and graduate students, Nora and Benton are off to discern its fate. But something more than meets the eye is at work here, as Agent Corrie Swanson soon learns. Indeed, it may tie in to her case of grave desecrations, murder, and abduction happening in the present day. And the Party itself may have more to it than meets the eye.

So, I want to start at the end. Specifically, the end of the last 4 or 5 Pendergast books. They’ve been bad. The last two especially have turned a 180, introducing characters with no motive seen or heard in any of the story to that point, and listed them as somehow supernatural killers. Now, without too much of a spoiler—Old Bones doesn’t do that. The ending makes sense, and while the epilogue laid it on a little thick, nothing ridiculous occurs.

Next, let’s look at the story itself. A bit of a slow build; lots of bones, lots of Donner Party lore and supposition, interaction, investigation. Very little action or suspense. Somewhere around the halfway mark, things begin to move. Again, compared to the recent Pendergast books, I found it quite refreshing. It doesn’t rush, and it paints a competent picture. Sadly, Old Bones didn’t blow me away. It wasn’t a captivating read, a pulse-pounding thriller. But it was pretty good, and a relief compared to what we fans have endured lately.

Character-wise, I didn’t really care for Corrie, which is a shame, as I’ve always quite enjoyed her POVs. Nora’s too, for that matter. But while Nora continued to deliver in Old Bones, Corrie’s performance was a bit of a departure. Her chapters were a bit cliché. You know, the interagency feuds, the incompetent superiors, sexism, class structure, etc. In one scene, she relates to a witness to get them to open up in a fashion that’s been repeated waaaay too much in media. “‘The man’ likes music, just like me? Wow, I guess she’s alright, then. I should tell her what I didn’t tell anyone else”. Sigh. She was just a disappointment, in my opinion.

Bottomline, if you’re after a new and inventive supernatural thriller—this ain’t it. It’s a decent enough mystery-thriller, I suppose, especially if you’ve been reading the Pendergast series this entire time. Even feels like a bit of a triumph when compared to the latest books. They CAN still write. Honestly, I hope this new Kelly-Swanson spinoff delivers, I really do, because I think it’s time we think about cancelling the original.

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