An apple orchard owner discovers relics on her land that may be from ancient Native Americans in Fink’s mystery.
Claire Courtney grew up on the land she now owns—an apple and cherry orchard in Washington state. It’s a beautiful place, but the work is hard, and the orchard is carrying a great deal of debt. Her workers unearth some old Native American spear points—at 8 or 9 inches, they are unusually large. Claire calls a state university for advice, and they send Joe Running, a young Native American archaeology professor. Joe, astounded by the size of the objects, realizes they could be 10,000 years old and artifacts from the ancient Clovis culture. He sets up a dig site with some graduate students, but Claire is skeptical. (“I don’t much like anybody telling me what to do, and I’m not one for a having a bunch of people underfoot, so we’ll see how this whole thing plays out.”) News of the find leaks to the media, and a local Native American nation threatens legal action to halt the excavation. Tourists begin to flow into the orchard along with Spencer Grant, an Ivy League hotshot who wants to take over the dig from Joe. Spencer has seniority and plenty of prestige and connections, but the dig is jeopardized when workers at the site find a contemporary murder victim in a plastic bag. Fink has impressive command over the many swirling elements of her well-plotted novel, from the stresses of an agricultural business to the politics of academic power plays. Crucial to the story is Joe Running, a finely drawn young archaeologist who contextualizes the novel’s events in a marked way, especially as things take a darker turn. The characterizations are strong, but the author has the ability to make the unique setting as important as the people.
Archaeology and murder mix in this smart, picturesque novel that’s steeped in local culture.