Archaeologist Chuck Bender’s contract for preservation work in Utah’s Arches National Park is disrupted by a sudden death that turns out to be only the first of several.
Whatever provoked Megan Johnson to ignore all the park rules and venture onto the Landscape Arch, one of many striking, naturally formed sandstone structures that give the park its name, payback was swift and unforgiving: The arch collapsed under her, plunging her five stories to her death. A regrettable accident, says chief ranger Sanford Gibbons. Not a bit, insists hotheaded Chuck (Yosemite Fall, 2018, etc.). First he blames George Epson, the regional manager of O&G Seismic, for the petrochemical blasting he thinks caused the arch to collapse; then, when he finds a neat hole bored in the base of the arch with telltale signs of an explosive packed into it, he insists that it was deliberate murder—and that Gibbons, who maintains that he examined the remnants of the arch itself without finding anything suspicious, is covering it up. Chuck’s knack of antagonizing would-be allies isn’t limited to the death of Megan Johnson. He constantly crosses swords with his wife, Durango paramedic Janelle Ortega, over how best to handle her newly rebellious 13-year-old daughter, Carmelita; with Carmelita herself, who’s got quite the mouth on her; and with his hippy-dippy mother, Sheila Bender, who neglected him during the years he was fighting to grow up but wants back into his life now that she’s hung out a shingle as a seer in nearby Moab. Almost everyone in the case, from a pair of retired couples visiting the park to a homeless man who’s taken up residence there, Chuck gradually realizes, is connected to his mother. Where will it all end?
Readers new to the series are advised to save their sympathy for the peripatetic hero and his immediate family since most members of the noncontinuing cast are bound for either the slammer or the morgue.