Nothing turns a cold case hotter than two partial skeletons and 14 skulls.
When pop historian and author Albert Lash, suffering from ALS, sells his San Francisco house and moves to an assisted living facility, the new tenants are disconcerted to find a gruesomely decorated bomb shelter under the floorboards of the garden shed, which is scheduled for demolition. Over a dozen skulls are neatly stacked against a wall, two partial skeletons lie beside them, and there is a filthy mattress with attached restraints and copious blood splatters. Could this be where Ann Coryell, a graduate student working on her thesis about the effect of unreconciled genocide on the collective unconscious, died 10 years ago? Lash, her mentor and lover, had been considered a suspect. But the original detectives on the case, one a drunk and the other now retired, made no headway. Homicide cop Ben Raveneau, now assigned to cold cases (Counterfeit Road, 2012, etc.), still has nightmares about missing a call from Ann that might have saved her. Ann’s mother still suffers guilt over refusing her pleas for help. Brandon Lindsley, who harbors a grudge against Lash for reneging on an agreement to collaborate with him on three books, leads Raveneau to members of a minicult devoted to Ann’s theories. In short order, the FBI gets involved, along with a Missouri sheriff. Incendiary bombs set much of the California forest ablaze, and Lash nearly succumbs to radiation poisoning. Worse, nobody—not the FBI, the veteran cops or the cultists—confides everything Raveneau needs to know. More must die, pseudonyms reveal their secrets and all those bones finally get identified before Raveneau can settle down for wine and pizza with his girlfriend.
Seasoned pro Russell showcases sturdy police work on a complicated case.