First Sentence: Red and blue police lights splash off the chipped chrome letters spelling ICE MACHINE.
Professor Theo Cray uses computational science and applies it to biology, including the study of DNA. On a field trip, staying in a small town in northern Montana, he is taken in for police questioning related to recent deaths of women. One set of photos stands out. A young woman, one of Theo’s former students, had been involved. Theo ends up with a vial of her blood that also contains a strand of hair, and even though the bear has been killed, something doesn’t seem right to Theo. That instinct ends up putting him in extreme danger.
We begin with a very good, creepy, scary, and ultimately deadly opening. Mayne is so good at setting the scene and making it dramatic. He then adds a bit of irony to it, while completely capturing our attention. He also provides an interesting assessment of grief—“The trouble is we expect the emote part of emotion. Humans are social primates, and our experiences have to be externalized to be acknowledged by others.”
There is nothing better than an author who entertains and makes one think. Mayne succeeds at both. He both makes the science, such as the two types of DNA, comprehensible and interesting but raises other questions that make one stop and consider; did Christians steal the story of creation from the Greeks?
Detective Glenn is an interesting character. The reversal of roles is nice, where Glenn is the understanding, sympathetic cop, and the woman Sheriff Tyson is hard-nosed, just wants answers. But it’s Cray who is the focus; a seemingly stereotypical scientist who is brilliant at somethings and completely naïve about others. Yet, one can’t help but enjoy the bits of humor—“I’m such an idiot.” “Not everyone can be a rocket scientist.” “CalTech’s program actually accepted me. But I turned it down to study biology at M.I.T.” There is a very good transition, with the help of a friend, that takes Cray beyond his role—“I’m done being the crazy guy showing up in police stations with a wild story about a killer who makes crimes look like animal attacks.” All the characters are smart, capable, and strong in the best sense.
The story is well plotted. There are some good twists one should have seen coming but didn’t, which is always good. Mayne builds the suspense to an almost unbearable pitch, ensuring that one won’t stop reading until the final page.
“The Naturalist” is one fascinating, intense, un-put-downable read. Mayne really knows how to tell a gripping story. Best of all, it appears to be the start of a new series.
THE NATURALIST (Ama. Sleuth-Prof. Theo Cray-Montana-Contemp) – VG+
Mayne, Andrew – 1st in seriesThomas & Mercer (Oct 2017)