Not actually a cozy mystery! I think this one is technically a thriller.
Cassie and Walter are forensic geologists; Cassie was a teenager when she started working with Walter and she’s since become his partner. They’re approached by a Robert Shelburn, a venture capitalist who wants them to help him find his brother, Henry, who’s looking for gold by way of (quick)silver up in the Sierra Nevada. Eastern side, not western. The gold is part and parcel of their family legend, but in the end it’s not really what Henry — or Robert — is looking for.
Henry is described repeatedly as being a man out of his time, a man who would have fit better with the miners of the gold rush, but Robert is a snake oil salesman. Just the modern version, pretending to come up with an ecological process that doesn’t really work and — more to the point — that he doesn’t care if it works or not.
If Shelburne had practiced this pitch in front of a mirror he could not have performed it more convincingly. Isn’t that what venture capitalists prized? (Kindle edition location 297)
But Cassie and Walter don’t have any idea about any of that; all they know is Robert, the Golden Child, is asking for their help in finding Henry, Quicksilver, before he can kill himself. And while Cassie may not have any “romance” in her soul, she does succumb both to compassion for the mercury-crazed Henry and to the thrill of the hunt itself–whether for mercury, chalcolite, or gold.
Side note: I’ve never played with mercury, even in chemistry class. I know the vapor is dangerous stuff, emphasized by the description of Henry late in this book but every time I read a description of someone who does, I feel like I really missed out. Although…
I wanted to stick my finger in it. I wanted to scoop it up and roll it around in my palm. I’d done something of the sort in college chem, although it was officially discouraged. (location 200)
It’s an interesting tale but I’m not sure I’d really call it a thriller; I didn’t feel any of the adrenaline jolts I’d expect to feel upon any of the twists or turns (though one, at about the halfway point in the novel, did raise my eyebrows in surprise). On the other hand, the descriptions of the mountain and the geological processes were wonderful and clear, and I had to laugh when part of the Big Conflict at the end of the book involved Walter lecturing the heroes and villains remarkably like a college professor. It was a good thing, and completely in keeping with his character.
There were a few too many dropped threads in this one; like Walter’s poster for Alice in Wonderland, about which Cassie thinks:
Walter likes the message: you follow the evidence wherever it takes you, down the rabbit hole if you must. (location 311)
And then Alice gets mentioned a few times further on, but ultimately gets dropped. I don’t know if that was Dwiggins not wanting to beat a metaphor over the head or what, but the reference was unnatural enough to draw my attention, and when that happens it feels a bit like Chekhov’s gun to me. But Dwiggins style is somewhat spare and occasionally poetic, as suits the unromantic narrator.
I took in a deep tunnel breath. It tasted like stone. (location 1244)
It’s a good read, easy and quick. But this is another series from which I think I’ll only read this one book.