A cerebral detective investigates the killing of a renowned archaeologist who may have stumbled on a major case of academic fraud in this sequel.
Joyce Fulbright is a dean at the University of Kansas and an academic superstar, famous for her research on prehistoric art left scrawled in the caves of France. When she’s murdered, all eyes immediately turn to her colleague and furtive lover, Dr. James Porter, who quickly admits to their affair but vehemently denies killing her. Still, the evidence so strongly implicates him—his hair and semen were found on the scene, and his skin under Fulbright’s fingernails—that even Porter’s own lawyer takes his guilt for granted. Porter hires private eye Harry Przewalski to investigate, a hard-boiled veteran who was once deployed to Iraq, and so uncommonly erudite he impresses even the scholars he meets. Harry quickly determines that the list of those with a motive to kill Fulbright is long—she treated her associates with despotic disdain and even blackmailed some for sexual favors. As one colleague of Fulbright’s puts it, referring to an academic excursion that she attended: “Christ, half the faculty on that bus would have loved to suffocate the bitch.” Krishtalka (The Bone Field, 2018, etc.), continuing a series that chronicles Harry’s exploits, skillfully mixes a murder mystery with an intricate tale of academic intrigue and historical drama. Harry discovers that Fulbright had scholarly reasons to suspect that the art in one particular cave in France in a village named Rouffignac is fraudulent and at the site of an unspeakable atrocity during World War II.
At the heart of the author’s astonishingly clever tale—both intelligently conceived and executed—is the protagonist. Harry is slyly intellectual, lacks pretension, and harbors a profound storehouse of pain belied by his emotional reticence. Some of the author’s best writing in the book—his prose is consistently sharp and illustrative—describes Harry’s quiet torment. Consider this passage that eloquently captures the traumatic fallout of his mother’s debilitating illness: “Harry had felt his father shrink from the stealth of Emilia’s decay, from her no longer knowing who is me and who is them and who is us. They would come upon Emilia rehearsing her life from a list she’d written on a piece of paper.” And while the plot flirts with implausibility, given the introduction of an unlikely coincidence that weaves Emilia into Harry’s investigation of the crime, it remains grippingly suspenseful. In addition, Krishtalka provides a scathing peek into the venal corridors of academic life and its petty power struggles over professional status. Fulbright emerges as a tantalizingly complex figure, capable of grotesque displays of immorality, but still moved by a principled attachment to the truth, a commitment sometimes interred under the small-minded squabbles of scholarly life. The author provides the best this genre has to offer: a riveting exploration of a crime blended with a deeply stirring examination of human nature.
A cinematically immersive murder mystery deftly combined with an intellectual drama.