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Old Bones


Old Bones

One of the most morbidly infamous events in American history is the 1846-47 trek of the Donner Party across the Midwest, eventually landing in snowbound Sierra Nevada. During this time, the group became trapped and isolated, ultimately turning to cannibalism to survive. Only 48 of the original 87 were left once the rescue was finally accomplished. The fact that the survivors had to eat friends and family members has made the Donner Party fodder for horrific tales, crude humor and several novels --- including Alma Katsu's terrific book, THE HUNGER.

Now, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child revisit this story with their new thriller, OLD BONES, which kicks off a new series that begins with a vicious murder on a cloudy Paris night. Readers will have to wait a bit to see how this apparently senseless crime fits in with the plot. We then shift over to an archaeological dig in the Sierra Nevada with curator Nora Kelly and historian Clive Benton. They are working for the Santa Fe Institute of Archaeology and will be searching for the Lost Camp, where the remains of the Donner Party are said to be located.

"OLD BONES has it all: chills, thrills and a blend of history, along with archaeological expertise you can only get from a Preston & Child novel."

Benton is actually a descendant of a member of that ill-fated party --- the Breen family. He is in possession of the journal belonging to Tamzene Donner and has gleaned some crucial information from it. The cannibalism may not have been so much out of a need to eat, driven by the madness of starvation, but by the discovery of gold, which today would be worth in excess of 20 million dollars. Kelly and Benton have a couple of team members with them, and are later joined by a four-person group led by Burleson, a top ranch handler and an expert on the Sierra Mountains. The eight of them head off with their horses and camping gear to begin their mission.

Meanwhile, we have a concurrent narrative featuring young FBI agent Corrie Swanson, who is investigating a series of murders not far from where the expedition is set. It seems inevitable that the two stories will intersect at some point. One thing I did catch during the start of Swanson's investigation is a murder site that includes a poster of the cult film The Relic, a “subtle” homage to Preston & Child's first novel.

Kelly and her team have had some success with their excavating, finding what appears to be most of the bones that may have belonged to Samantha Carville, a young girl who allegedly was one of the first of the party to be cannibalized. As they continue, they uncover more and more human body parts, but not the alleged cache of gold. It is not too much longer before two major events occur. First, the camp is visited by Swanson. She finds it more than a coincidence that the Kelly/Benton team is searching for the Lost Camp since the murders she has been investigating all follow a series of grave robberies with a tie to the Parkins from the Donner Party. With missing persons still not accounted for, it is obvious that Swanson will not stop any time soon, and they may see more of her before all is said and done.

Things take a strange turn in the camp when a member of Burleson's team, the highly religious Jack Peel, disappears --- along with all of the excavated remains of Samantha. The group surmises that he could not get past his moral convictions and probably just wanted to ensure that the girl’s remains received a proper burial. When they go out in search of him, they locate his horse and bloody helmet, but nothing else. Burleson knows that Peel was too good of a rancher to have gotten lost and fallen, and they all suspect foul play. Could someone else be in the mountains trailing them and now starting to pick them off one by one? Or could they be victimized by something more supernatural based on the tales of the haunted land of the many Donner Party victims?

OLD BONES has it all: chills, thrills and a blend of history, along with archaeological expertise you can only get from a Preston & Child novel. I loved spending time with Nora Kelly and Corrie Swanson, and look forward to seeing them in future adventures. Longtime readers will be rewarded not only by this pairing but by some other surprises leading up to the conclusion of this exciting read.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on August 23, 2019

Old Bones
by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

  • Publication Date: March 3, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1538701375
  • ISBN-13: 9781538701379