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CANYON SACRIFICE
by Scott Graham
Torrey House, June 2014
228 pages
$14.95
ISBN: 1937226301


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Emblazoned across the front cover of CANYON SACRIFICE is "A National Park Mystery." You might be forgiven for wondering if this was a new Nevada Barr mystery, written under an alias. However, the designation "debut novel," also on the front cover, might set you straight. In any case, although Anna Pigeon does not appear anywhere in the novel, Scott Graham has clearly set his sights on Barr's territory, and he's done a rather phenomenal job of it.

The novel has the same mix of character-driven and plot-driven mystery that Barr does so well. In this case, our sleuth is not a park ranger, but rather an archaeologist who has made his name by searching for Native American artifacts before national park projects get underway. Chuck Bender has always been something of a loner, but just before the book opens he has met and married a much younger woman who comes with a ready-made family. Much of the book is concerned with Chuck's adjustment (or lack thereof) to his new family. In the process, the reader comes to know Chuck very well, and this is a great set-up for a new series.

Chuck has brought his family on a camping trip to Grand Canyon National Park, where he has overseen several archaeological projects over the years. His new family is trying to get to know him, but just as he's starting to make inroads into the mom-and-two-daughters family he has married into, one of the daughters is kidnapped. The kidnapper may be the girl's estranged father, or it may be someone who is targeting Chuck, or it may be part of a plot that casts suspicion on Chuck's new wife. Chuck struggles with the possibilities as he attempts to rescue the girl and find his place in the family at the same time.

The author is an amateur archaeologist, and the historical knowledge about the Anasazi and about archaeology in general is in plain evidence. It is woven well into the plot, however, so the reader does not ever feel as though (s)he's sitting in a lecture hall. Rather, when the information is supplied, it is to further the plot and/or provide substance to Chuck's role as an archaeologist. I was pleased to learn more about the Grand Canyon and the Anasazi while at the same time being deeply engaged in the action.

I've visited the Grand Canyon, and I felt as though I was right back there while reading CANYON SACRIFICE. The writing about the location brings it into clear focus so that I now feel as though I have visited even the remote backcountry areas of the park that I could never actually see in person. Graham has created a beautifully balanced book, incorporating intense action scenes, depth of characterization, realistic landscapes, and historical perspective. I am looking forward to reading the next in the series, MOUNTAIN RAMPAGE, when it is released.

Sharon Mensing is the Head of School of Emerald Mountain School, an independent school in the mountains of Colorado, where she lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, December 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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