Forensics on a famous hiking trail…
The Bone Track is the third in Sara E Johnson’s Alexa Glock series, set in New Zealand. Although I haven’t read the first two books, I was interested in The Bone Track both because of Alexa’s forensic science background, and because I have a bit of a thing for books set in New Zealand. And it lived up to my expectations on both fronts.
As the book opens, Alexa and her brother Charlie are starting on one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks”, the Milford Track. But things seem to go wrong almost from the beginning. Emotions between Alexa and Charlie are tense due to some years-old family issues, and, making things worse, they manage to get separated almost at the beginning of the “tramp”, as it’s known in NZ. Although this shouldn’t be a huge deal, since they can just meet up at that night’s sleeping hut, it turns out to be more complicated than that. While they’re apart, Alexa comes far too close to being caught in a dangerous mudslide, which also exposes the twenty-year-old-ish human bones that become the first of the two cases in The Bone Track. And minutes later someone in a helicopter tries to kill her. Since there’s no cell phone coverage on the Mitford Track, she heads for the closest lodge to report the incidents. There, though, she also learns that one of the other trampers is missing – and later found dead. So there’s a second case as well. Whew! Like any good investigator, Alexa has brought along her scene-of-the-crime kit (or at least most of it), so she starts to investigate both deaths, and the story takes off from there.
I loved the forensics in The Bone Track, which I found fascinating. I especially liked the scene where Alexa borrows the cheese from the lodge’s cook – you’ll recognize it when you get to it! And even though Johnson indicates in a note at the end that she made up some of the specific places used in the book, her overall descriptions of the Milford Track and the main sites along the way are wonderful. (I was inspired enough to go read more about the Track, and recognized the various huts/lodges, the day shelters, some of the waterfalls, the Mackinnon pass, etc.)
All-in-all, I really enjoyed following along as Alexa and the police cooperated to figure out whodunnit (x 2). I did have some minor reservations, however, around the high level of angst in parts of the book: Alexa’s relationship with Charlie, Charlie’s problems at home, Alexa’s relationship with DI Horne. Mostly this is personal preference – I’ve never been a big fan of extra (non-case-related) angst in my mysteries. In the end, though, I found that I kind of skimmed quickly over some of those parts, without feeling as if I missed much that was super-relevant to the investigations, so this wasn’t really a big deal.
Please keep in mind that I try to fight star-flation a little by not giving too many five-star ratings, and so my four-star review for The Bone Track is a solid “read this book” rating. And my thanks to the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, and NetGalley for the advance review copy!