A prologue so powerful it will give you chills as you hear a quite discussion between Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle.
One will relay a story told to him while the other will leave quite shaken. Doyle after hearing what Wilde relates gets up from his seat and leaves knowing that what he heard would change his life and many others in the present forever.
Flashing forward to the present we meet Corrie Swanson a criminology student at John Jay who is hoping to convince her mentor or adviser to allow her to complete her thesis project with an idea that she is about to present to him. But, no matter what she relates or how well researched her plan for the thesis may be, he discounts what she would like to do until she comes across something that would make the perfect topic for her thesis. Within the rich and isolated are a group of people that at first glance might seem like the upper echelon of this small ski resort area in Colorado but in reality what they have hidden for so many years will make you shudder. Digging up the bones or bodies of any deceased without the explicit permission of a descendant is a felony.
When Corrie comes across the fact that a century old graveyard has been moved and the bones within this graveyard belonged to miners said to be eaten by a deadly grizzly bear, she hopes to be allowed to examine the bones to find out if there is another reason that might have caused their deaths. But, Corrie is impulsive and persistent when getting an idea in her head that she wants carried out. Stopping at nothing she manages to get her advisor to agree to her topic, convinces him that she has permission to access the site where the bones have been placed and then finds herself in a town that you might say appears to have morals but does it. Meeting with the Chief of Police and being allowed at the makeshift grave site Corrie is allowed to view the bones for just a fracture of time but in that time she notices something that causes her alarm. Specific markings that would not be attributed to a grizzly and when she asks for another minute or permission to photograph the specimens she is quickly ushered out.
But, knowing Corrie she is determined to find out what is really behind these markings and she breaks into the sight and winds up in jail but not before having a confrontation with the head of the Board and learning that this woman is the reason she is being denied access. After being told by the Chief of police that he will approve her project it is declined. But, winding up in jail is just the start as our favorite FBI investigator Pendergast arrives on the scene in the middle of a town meeting and what happens is quite remarkable as he approaches the podium, presents his credentials and explains just who committed the felony, how, why and that Corrie had better be released. This is just the beginning of the nightmares that befall this town. When Corrie first meets with the police chief a young girl named Jenny is manning the desk. Hoping to get into law enforcement what happens to her and her family sends the town in frenzy as she returns home from a date, finds her sister brutally beaten, the killer still in her home and the attack on her more than fatal. Taking a can of gasoline and pouring it everywhere the entire family is burned beyond recognition but not before they are each brutalized.
Pendergast arrives just as this family is killed in this horrific fire and it becomes apparent not only to him but to others that this fire is anything but a botched robbery as the Chief Fire Investigator seems to think. While stating what he observes at the scene and describing what he feels and knows is the chain of events that led to the death of each of the four victims and their dog, Pendergast places himself in a tenuous position with both the Chief of Police and the Fire Investigator. However, readers will soon learn that this FBI Agent has resources all over the world, is involved in numerous cases at the same time and really does not care about the opinion of others when stating what he thinks. Accept it or not it matters little to him as we move ahead to Corrie and her research project that proves the miners whose bodies were exhumed were not killed by a grizzly bear but by a gang of humans or in this case cannibals that ate them alive. Dating back to the attacks of the miners over 100 years ago, Corrie uncovers information what will send this town into a tailspin, cause someone to take action against her and leading to more fires and deaths. As Aloysius Pendergast makes his presence known, encourages Corrie to look at a specific story by Sherlock Holmes, The Hounds of Baskerville, trying to help her to find the answers she needs to learning the truth about these deaths and relating it to the real story that Doyle heard but failed to write in his diary. Is this grizzly bear dating back to 1876 responsible for the deaths of the 11 miners or is this bear the scapegoat? The recently unearthed bodies in that were exhumed or dug up from this graveyard will their descendants want them reburied there or will the town’s leaders have their new Phase III development built and their new spa instead?
Agent Pendergast is relentless when pursuing leads an the authors allow us to get more of an insider’s look at his personality as he contacts someone about Wildfire, receives a rather stark letter from his son and another report about someone else close to him leading readers to believe that something is more than troubling him as he manages to link the murders from the past to those from the present. Will all of this lead back to Doyle who according to Pendergast might have alluded to something that would help solve this case and Corrie with her thesis by reading the missing Holmes story?
When the first descendant Captain Stacy Bowdree arrives in Rory Fork, recently discharged from the service she requests that the remains of her relative be given to her so they can she can have them buried but not in Roaring Fork. Befriending Corrie many would say is odd and why would she want the remains of her long buried relative? Is she really the relative of this man or is she someone else? Why does Mrs. Kermode, from the most powerful family in town fear what Corrie might learn and wants her silenced forever? But, all roads lead to the family that runs the Heights and to a secret that lies beneath. What happens when mercury levels rise and the effects can control your brain? Miners that were innocent victims’ mercury crazed and wound up hiding in an abandoned mine. Killed by a group of vigilantes led by one man whose fate was no different that the miners. A gang of killers was a group of miners who worked in the smelter. But just how does this all interface or intertwine as the authors bring to light a startling revelation. When Pendergast relives the conversation between Doyle and Wilde you won’t believe what is revealed and who is responsible for the fires and the deaths. A game of Russian Roulette, a series of uncovered clues, a hidden letter with a message on it and a story written by Doyle will enlighten readers as to why but maybe not who.
Murders that relate back to the late 1800’s a family in the present that needed to control what happened in the past and group that cog nominated themselves the Committee of Seven. But, when push came to shove and these seven would confront the killers what happens is graphically described by the authors and will haunt you the reader and remind you that there is much more to come as the final shots are about to reach their targets, another fire is about to be ignited and an ugly truth revealed.
As the authors bring you back to the exact time period and we hear the voices of Wilde and Doyle as they recreate their discussion and meeting, we hear Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes discuss the story that would bring it all in focus as one missing mystery in the past will help Pendergast solve the crime in the present.
Corrie is in danger after being shot and having her dog killed but being Corrie, persistent, rambunctious and impetus she finds herself needing to find the killer, finding the final clues to help her in her research and disregards Pendergast’s warning about remaining in the Hotel and safe. As she takes a snowmobile and heads for Christmas Mountain someone else is hot on her trail. Lies, betrayals, deceits, deadly intents, mercury poison and one person bent on teaching the rich and super wealthy a lesson.
Roaring Fork will never be the same and the fires that burned will leave their distinct odor on the town forever. When Corrie faces a deadly killer and is chained to several pipes, the fire is ignited but will she survive. What happens will surprise readers and Pendergast learns of her whereabouts but is he too late? The research into the use of mercury to make felt and smelting and the end result of too much exposure helps readers understand the reasons events happen in the past, how they are related in the Holmes story and might enlighten you about the present. A town without morals, a town ensconced in wealth and greed and one young girl who just wants to complete her thesis and be the first junior to win the Rosewell Prize.
Who is burning mansions up in the Heights? Why kill off the families? Snowstorms, danger, a sleep little town filled with secrets and just whose if any will be revealed as Authors Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child take readers deep inside the world of miners, inside the mines themselves and learning more about the man in black or Pendergast who is someone you definitely want on your side. But, Corrie is one young girl that at times is hard to understand, headstrong, lacking thought and definitely at times beyond reason making her one character that many might find difficult to like at times. Smart, acute when dealing with her research but lacking common sense when faced with grave danger. Corrie tends to ignore Pendergast when told to leave Rory Fork, follow his instructions and deal with her educational goals. What happens at the end will send heat waves down your spine and the end result will make readers ready for the next Pendergast novel. A rejected Holmes story too awful for the Victorian time period and as Preston and Child manage to create this lost tale as the ending with its twists, surprises, deceits and lies will more than just surprise readers.