Rating: 3.5 stars
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Reclusive archeologist Jacob Keys gets a call from friends in Italy telling him that his mother, renowned archeologist Annie Keys, has died on a dig along with nearly her entire team. The only body not recovered was that of Jacob’s former lover, Caleb. Jacob is off his mountain in Wyoming with plane tickets for Sardinia the next morning, accompanied by Dr. Patrick Hoder, because Jacob is a surly dude and Patrick is fluent in Italian and a practiced negotiator.
While they are investigating the site, a giant box arrives at a Wyoming antiquities museum run by Sam MacDougal. Sam and his husband Ben Walking Turtle are good friends with Jacob, and Annie knew their history. She’d sent artifacts of her extraordinary find for Jacob to see: bones that indicate humanoid creatures with wings. Only, Jacob is en route to Sardinia and misses the arrival. Sam inadvertently unleashes something evil, and tragedy starts to unfold around Ben as those closest to him are infected.
Finding Caleb trapped in a dig chamber should bring answers, but he’s so battered and shell-shocked that he can’t explain what he and Annie had encountered in their investigations. Jacob tries to get Caleb the help he needs, but death and destruction seem to chase them through recovery. And, the return to Wyoming is filled with peril.
I knew going in that this book isn’t a romance. I still wasn’t prepared for the violence that was lurking between the pages. The story rapidly jumps in point-of-view between at least seven characters. That was a problem for me, because many, many, times I was scratching my head regarding the narrator and location of the story. See, we’re in Wyoming, Arizona, Sardinia, and hospitals in those locales, and houses and cabins and it got me confused more than twice. The terse narration was similar for several characters as well, and at least two of the characters are experiencing altered states due to evil influence, so it was a sincerely mind-bending experience to keep track of who was doing what with whom and where. Because I didn’t really have a good chance to bond with people before they were incapacitated, killed, or mutilated, their suffering was more “Bummer” than “Oh, Noes!!” In short, the impact on me as a reader was muted. I wished the story was lengthened with some more description, honestly, so I would have felt better grounded in the storyline. I knew there were deeper connections present and developing, but so many scenes involved fever dreams, flashbacks, and the dead speaking to the living, it got to be too much plot to keep track of in the space allotted. Even the scenes where the Utes were trying to contain the evil seemed too sharp, too cutting, with little emotional resonance. As a person with an interest in Indigenous customs, I’d have loved more fleshed-out descriptions so I could be immersed in this culture.
The book left me unsettled because the end is a resolution, but it’s not a feel good scenario. Good people were killed for no good reason. Lives were altered, dismantled, and destroyed because explorers went too far and unwittingly disturbed ancient protections against evil. It made me think back to my youth, watching Poltergeist for the first time, and thinking AHHH! even as the credits rolled. If you’re looking for a good horror read with gay characters, this one is okay. Don’t expect to feel warm and fuzzy when you’re done, though.
Note: This is a 2nd edition of a book originally titled “Diggers” by Dallas Coleman
A review copy of this book was provided by DSP Publications.