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The Scorpion's Tail


The Scorpion's Tail

Readers of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s immensely popular Agent Pendergast novels have watched young Corrie Swanson grow up from being Pendergast’s protégé to now becoming a rookie FBI special agent. Corrie plays a huge role in THE SCORPION’S TAIL, book two in Preston & Child's series starring archaeologist Nora Kelly.

Corrie and Nora teamed up in OLD BONES and were destined to work together again. This time, the case with which they are presented is a whopper. But first we experience a hostage situation to which Corrie and her boss, Supervisory Special Agent Hale Morwood, are called on to respond. A man is holding a seven-year-old girl at gunpoint in the doorway of his trailer home, the blood of her deceased mother running out the door and down the front steps. They create a diversion that allows an extremely nervous Corrie to take a shot. Not being the best shooter in her class, she hits her target but does not kill him. The man is apprehended, but the girl is grazed by a bullet from his gun. It is not a failure to anyone except those in the know within the Albuquerque, NM, FBI ranks. Corrie recognizes that a few more inches and the girl would’ve been dead.

"What Preston & Child have so deftly succeeded at doing, yet again, is to combine real history with archaeological finds and forensic science to create a fascinating novel filled with the thrills of an Indiana Jones film."

Now, as Corrie licks her wounds from this experience, Morwood lays a very cold case on her for her next assignment. She meets with a young small-town sheriff, Homer Watts of Socorro County, regarding something he found during a shoot-out with a small-time crook/relic hunter in the ghost town of High Lonesome. It turns out that the bad guy, aptly named Pick Rivers, was in search of lost treasure. Watts shows Corrie the mummified remains of a man who looks to have been there for at least 40 or 50 years.

Knowing that this case is going to involve some digging, Corrie calls on her old friend, Nora, enticing her with talk of an old desert ghost town and the possibility of valuable relics. Little do either of them know at this time just how big a find they are about to uncover. They come across a terrific and ancient artifact around the neck of the body, a golden cross encrusted with gemstones. This spurs them on to dig further while they attempt to safely remove the body for identification.

Corrie gets to enjoy her favorite pastime: facial reconstruction. She builds a clay head from the remains they find and from that produces a digital image of what the gentleman may have looked like. With the assistance of Watts and the memories of some of his town’s older residents, they identify the body as that of Jim Gower. Technically, any living descendant of Gower’s would be entitled to the cross and whatever other riches may be unearthed in the area where his body was --- up to a point.

It turns out there was a cavernous series of mines beneath where the body was found that needs to be explored. Once the proper expert teams come in to do this, they find something that shocks everyone involved. The entire area, including the body and other relics, are filled with radiation. The FBI takes charge of the site as Morwood indicates that, based on the identification of the body and the timeline involved, it appears that the area was impacted by the first atomic bomb detonation from 1945. The Trinity test occurred not far from High Lonesome. Gower, his mule and a still unidentified second person were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Still, what was Gower doing there?

Suspiciously, Rivers ends up dead while in custody at the local hospital --- it was as if he was silenced before he could reveal what he knew might be buried beneath High Lonesome. To get more background on the military tests from Los Alamos, Corrie, Nora and company visit the U.S. Army base still in the area. It is led by General McGurk, who shares not only military history with them but also reveals the legend of the Victorio Peak treasure and the alleged Spanish gold that has long been searched for there.

Corrie and Nora discover on their own two halves of an ancient parchment that had been torn in two on purpose --- one side kept by a different person. Once put together and interpreted from ancient Mexican, the text reveals all that needs to be known about the location of the lost treasure. The problem now, as it is whenever anything of this nature is discovered, is how to go about locating the tremendously valuable find when you do not know who you can and cannot trust.

It is at this point that the narrative really sneaks up on you and grabs you by the throat. It is one thing to write an interesting story about ghost towns, ancient artifacts and lost treasure. What Preston & Child have so deftly succeeded at doing, yet again, is to combine real history with archaeological finds and forensic science to create a fascinating novel filled with the thrills of an Indiana Jones film. As a history buff, I so admire how they take what exists in various history texts and bring it to life in such a way that you are not only being entertained by a great read but also learning something in the process.

Buckle up because THE SCORPION’S TAIL is another winner for this writing duo, and they even surprise us with a special guest for the stunning finale.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on January 15, 2021

The Scorpion's Tail
by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

  • Publication Date: September 7, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1538747286
  • ISBN-13: 9781538747285