An Elena Vargas Archaeological Mystery

Fiction - Mystery - General
361 Pages
Reviewed on 11/15/2018
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Ruth Castleberry for Readers' Favorite

Dr. Elena Vargas is the director of an archaeological field school in Arizona where she supervises students excavating sites on the Taylor Ranch. While working to put in a new irrigation system on the ranch, Norm Taylor uncovers human bones which require the project be put on hold until the discovery is investigated. Unfortunately, Dr. Vargas, whose second sight enables her to sense traces of events and emotions from the past, experiences a strong feeling of malevolence emitting from the large area where the bones are buried. As required by law, the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office must decide on excavation procedures of the human bones uncovered. The committee visits the site at the Taylor Ranch and, once verifying what they expected to find, informs Dr. Vargas she is free to do as she likes as the site and its contents are “an abomination … the bones are those of depraved people.” Chapters of the current story are interspersed with short vignettes of what happened in 1376 to create the site’s foreboding spirits. At the same time, the FBI is investigating rumors that Mexican drug cartels are planning to loot artifacts from sites on U.S. reservations. Sander Jorgensen, the FBI agent in charge, meets with Dr. Vargas to enlist her assistance with the Lighting Bolt pot-hunting investigation.

Mysteries featuring archaeologists always appeal to me, so I quickly decided to read Bolt by Siena West. Bolt is a complex mystery that works well alternating between the two major plot lines – chasing pot hunters and exploring the story behind the origins of the dismembered and buried bones. The illegal pot hunting plot line, strong enough to stand alone, is well developed and actively involves seasoned crew members and local characters. Describing Native American life on the excavation site in the vignettes, Ms. West skillfully builds suspense as she reveals the tribe’s evolving experience with witchcraft and ritual. As excavations proceed and they uncover dismembered body parts scattered disrespectfully, the author’s subtle references to the crew members’ growing discomfort foreshadows the book’s last 30 pages. The characters are realistic, the dialogue authentic, and the pace steady. A few of the twists are unexpected and that’s a good thing. Ms. West deftly blends these two story lines into a powerful, if unsettling, read.