With the October 2004 review, we began rating the books on the basis of one to four trowels;
one trowel= don’t bother, to four trowels= run right out to your local book store and buy the hard cover!
The Scorpion’s Tail by Douglas Preston; Lincoln Child
Reviewed on: March 1, 2021
Grand Central Publishing: New York City
The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and its aftermath, the 75-year-old partially mummified remains of a suspected pot hunter found in a New Mexico ghost town named High Lonesome, the first test of an atomic bomb at the adjacent Alamogordo bombing range, and the machinations of modern-day tomb raiders provide the background to the latest thriller penned by the prolific authors, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Rookie FBI Agent Corrie Swanson seeks the expertise of archaeologist Nora Kelly of the Santa Fe Archaeological Institute—the two formed an uneasy alliance in Preston and Child’s earlier Old Bones—when she is called in to investigate a three-quarters-century old desiccated corpse discovered following a shoot-out in High Lonesome between the local sheriff and a present-day pot hunter. The excavated remains suggest the man suffered an agonizing death and associated artifacts yield a spectacular 400-year old gold cross encrusted with gem stones.
What follows is vintage Preston and Child as they weave a tale of suspense that link the obsessive search by a virtual phantom for a 350-year-old Spanish treasure trove with the coldly calculating efforts of a highly-organized gang of artifact thieves. Both are cunning, ruthless and willing to kill—and Corrie and Nora are caught in the cross fire. The plot is complex and pleasingly convoluted and the characters—both primary and secondary as well as heroes and villains—are equally complex and believable. The authors’ command of excavation processes and procedures are evident in the masterful description of Nora’s painstaking attention to detail as she exposes the mummified remains at High Lonesome. Nora’s triumphs and frustrations as she navigates the bureaucratic byways of a private archaeological research enterprise also ring true.
Preston and Child are master storytellers and The Scorpion’s Tail does not disappoint. Four trowels for the second Nora Kelly archaeology mystery.
Post Script: This review marks the 20th anniversary of reviews of archaeological fiction. It has been my pleasure and great fun to while away the hours reading these books—for the most part, at least—and writing the reviews! My thanks to MVAC allowing me to prattle on and I look forward to the years ahead.