by Robin Barefield
Publication Date: September 1. 2019
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Review by Laura Stewart Schmidt
KARLUK BONES by Robin Barefield (2019, Publication Consultants), is a great way to get a glimpse into life in Alaska. Karluk is an actual village in the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge that is known for its fishing and bear-watching. According to Ms. Barefield’s notes, there are no roads on the refuge, and small planes and boats are the only ways in and out. The wilderness presents all kinds of danger in the form of blizzards, dense vegetation, bears, and most of all, humans. Therein hangs the tale.
Jane Marcus is on a camping trip with friends when a carelessly-started fire uncovers a set of human bones. Jane’s curiosity and scientific mind (she’s a marine biologist by trade) compel her to want to know who could have gone missing and died in the Alaskan wilderness. The next chapter takes place in 1976 and introduces Bently and Schwimmer, two bear hunters who chartered a local plane to Karluk. An astute reader will immediately smell trouble for the young men. Could the bones belong to one of them? If so, where is the other?
Jane is even more intrigued when a bullet hole is discovered in the skull. Meanwhile, Sergeant Dan Patterson has a new case—pilot Jake Shepherd never returned from a trip to Karluk, and he is ultimately discovered shot to death in his plane. Patterson’s too busy with the case to worry about the old bones Jane has, and with no real evidence of murder (no one reported missing, the faint possibility of suicide, no shells in the vicinity), he gives Jane the go-ahead to research the bones and their possible owner.
The reader is introduced to a lot of characters here, which can be confusing, but it’s worth it to hang on. You want to know who killed Jake. The pace of the story may slow down a bit in the middle, but once things pick up, you will be hooked. The last third of the book moves like Jake’s Beaver, and readers will find it hard to walk away until they know what happens to everyone.
The setting is a character in itself, especially when we see the hapless Bently and Schwimmer in the wilderness, threatened not only by the elements but by the trapper. The reader is never sure what their fate was, and even when it starts to become clear, there are surprises in store.
Ms. Barefield has a gift for putting the readers smack in the middle of a complicated story and settling us in for the ride. KARLUK BONES is the fourth in a series that should continue to captivate readers.
Laura Stewart Schmidt: A lifelong reader and writer, inspired as a child by Harriet the Spy and Emily of New Moon. She minored in criminal justice in the hope that it would make her a more effective and knowledgeable mystery writer. Her Young Adult novel, Sweeter Than Life, was published by Martin Sisters Publishing in 2015. She has spent several years working as a community education coordinator, encouraging parents to read to their preschoolers and starting reading clubs for middle-school students. She also worked as a family court advocate for at-risk youth and parents suffering from substance addiction. Laura is also a member of Sisters in Crime and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.