Prolific romance writer Bonds (For All Time, 1996, etc.) embraces the thriller genre in this tale of tradition, power and murder set in Arizona’s Hopi Land.
After completing an assignment in Kosovo, U.S. Customs tracker Janet Lomayestewa returned to her home on the Hopi reservation. With her she brings a newly acquired facial scar, a drinking habit and the determination to regain custody of her mentally incapacitated daughter. After yet another run in with Customs, Janet finds herself without a job. So when a woman’s headless body is discovered in the desert, Janet joins the local police in the hunt for the killer. The search is hampered, however, by the fact that new murders keep occurring, with similarly grisly outcomes and few clues left behind. One of Janet’s initial suspects is astrophysicist Jack Ripley, who, after receiving an anonymously sent copy of the Book of the Hopi, is on a quest to find the missing Fire Clan stone tablet, fabled to hold extraordinary power. The tablet and the murderer are inextricably linked, so Jack and Janet team up as their searches intertwine, becoming emotionally entangled along the way. Primarily a writer of romance novels, Bonds shows strength at developing the swiftly moving plot. She makes admirable use of Arizona’s desert landscape to create a vivid sense of place, supplemented by her thoughtful portrayal of the political and personal tensions between Hopi traditionalists, progressives and those, like Janet, who feel they hover between the two worlds. However, some cultural elements that could have more richly colored the story—food, medicine, etc.—are either only briefly mentioned or missing altogether. Bonds’ dialogue is lively, but readers may be jarred out of the story by awkward prose, clunky sentence structure and odd references. Casual references to scalping and war whoops may have been meant to be tongue in cheek, although they come off as clichés. For a romance writer, Bonds’ sexual references can be juvenile: Breasts are referred to as “tah-tahs,” for example. Readers may be especially discomfited by the opening passage, which features explicit sexuality and violence worthy of a teen horror movie, the only purpose of which seems to be titillation and shock. Once past this scene and through the first hundred pages or so of slightly flat exposition, fans of romance and thrillers will be rewarded with a satisfying, well-paced story.
An admirable effort that could sway Bonds’ romance fans over to the thriller genre.