Tristan enters British Columbia’s Swallow Canyon on an expedition feeling a mix of trepidation and excitement.
His father and climbing teacher, Julian, disappeared there eight months before. Since then, Tristan’s mother has sunk into depression. Her in-home caregiver has charged the white teen with retrieving some item of Julian’s for his mother to grieve over in the absence of a body. Tristan’s guide, Brigit, also white, has another goal. Her depiction as the villain of the piece is an unfortunate choice. Mentally ill Brigit has gone off her medications and blames Julian for her mother’s death. Tristan is her pawn. The deeper they go into the canyon, the more layers Tristan uncovers about Julian’s last trip. It seems that Julian was, with Brigit’s mother, searching for gold. Tristan is a believably grieving, dutiful son—a sympathetic character trying to untangle a complicated web. Clues and revelations are well-plotted and the setting, cinematic. Descriptions of the extreme sport of canyoneering, a combination of rock climbing, cliff diving, and caving, are thrilling. In comparison, Brigit’s portrayal as an unbalanced predator lacks nuance.
Casting a mentally ill character as the villain sounds an unsatisfactory note in an otherwise easy, fast-paced adventure/mystery. (Mystery. 12-16)