Geology and Wicca are compelling substrate for classic whodunit mystery
Grave Echoes by Erin Cole grabbed me and didn't let go. Cole deftly draws great and believable characters, and drops them into a compelling plot that kept me genuinely guessing until the satisfying conclusion. As an avid reader of thrillers and mysteries, that's no small feat. Even better, the plot rests on a substrate of geology sprinkled with Wicca. What's not to love?
The heroine, Kate Waters, is a geologist whose sister is killed in a suspicious car wreck. Kate is plagued by intense "narcoleptic hallucinations" through which vital clues about her sister's past, a mysterious key and, ultimately, a killer are gifted to her. We journey with Kate as she unravels her sister's life, learning about her sibling's coven and paranormal belief system. Nothing about her sister was as it seemed.
Simultaneously, Kate is in the throes of a new relationship. Mt. Hood, long dormant, is also showing signs of seismic life, affecting her professional world. And her sister's death is forcing a long overdue emotional confrontation with her father. This may seem like a lot to handle but Cole pulls the threads together into a complete sedimentary whole.
The characterizations are strong: I sympathized with Kate's crowded life; she has depth and personality. The cast of accompanying Wiccan characters, especially Thea, are wonderfully dark without lapsing into one-dimensional stereotypes.
In addition to the page-turning story line, the subtext of science clashing with the paranormal lends a nice intellectual weight to the book. As a geologist, Kate is committed to science and rationality, but when she investigates her sister's death, she undergoes a transformative process in which she concludes that perhaps not everything can be understood through a logical framework. While difficult for a scientist to do, she begins to let go of that rigidity—out of love for her sister—and when she does, the pace of the book quickens as she finds a way to trust both that which she can explain (science) and that which she can only intuit (paranormal).
The book is set in Portland, and as a Portlander, I appreciated that the city details were accurate and warmed to Cole's obvious affection for the city. I also have a background in geology, and those details were accurate as well, except for a few necessary narrative devices. Because of this, I was comfortable trusting Cole in the other areas of the book, such as Wiccan and detective work. This is an author who definitely does her homework.