Lost en route to Erasmo Campos’s farm to examine peach rot, plant pathologist Claire Staples (The Shy Tulip Murders, 1996, etc.) stops at Jewell Scoggins’s trailer for directions and is fascinated by the woman’s past, when she went by the name of Cherokee Rose and fronted for a local country band. A day later, Jewell is dead, and Claire and her co-worker Ramon have turned up another body, now reduced to bones and wire-rimmed glasses, on Campos’s property. Could the corpse belong to Elliot Klein, the petroleum engineer who wooed Jewell back in the ’50s, then disappeared without a trace? And whatever happened to his inseparable sidekick Clyde? With the help of Ramon’s brilliant but paranoid cousin, investigative reporter Yolanda—now living in fear of C.C. Tidwell, the subject of one of her all-too-successful exposés—Claire tracks down a former band member, his jealous wife, and Elliot’s younger brother. One more will die and Claire will nearly drown in the Kern River before crimes both old and new are resolved in this complex blend of romance, science, and ingenious clues. Rothenberg, who died before completing the fourth in the series, is well-served by her friend Cannon, who finishes the tale with brio, intelligence, and a respect for the biota of California’s unadmirable San Joaquin Valley.
A beacon for those who have ever loved a married man and wondered if it would turn out right, plus just enough scientific sprinklings to make the reader an instant expert on mycorrhizal fungi.