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Bones of the Barbary Coast: A Cree Black Novel    by Daniel Hecht order for
Bones of the Barbary Coast
by Daniel Hecht
Order:  USA  Can
Bloomsbury, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Bones of the Barbary Coast is the third Cree Black mystery following City of Masks and Land of Echoes. Lucretia 'Cree' Black is a particularly empathic parapsychologist, whose talents developed after her husband's death. She normally works with two assistants, Ed and Joyce, but they are otherwise occupied for this case, which Cree calls 'among the most meaningful and dangerous research projects I have ever undertaken.'

Cree has been called on by an old family friend whom she has not seen since her childhood - SFPD homicide detective Bert Marchetti is now an old man of few words, close to retirement and anxious to go out with a splash. The crusty detective wants Cree to discreetly - with no hint of the paranormal - investigate the bones of a victim of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, 'found in a lovely hilltop Victorian' and nicknamed Wolfman by Bert's forensic anthropologist friend, Dr. Skobold, because of the skeleton's extreme deformities.

The story rambles through Cree's on-scene investigation and historical digging, punctuated by uncomfortable meetings with Bert. She learns of a past tragedy that destroyed his marriage and poisoned his life, and she wonders about his motivations. Cree also meets and grows to like a scarred radiologist, Cameron Raymond, who offers to help her find more about the wolfman - the reader (but not Cree) sees Ray running nude in dark forests with his three dogs, and wonders if there's a touch of werewolf in him too. What is driving Ray, and is he dangerous to Cree?

In parallel with Cree's perusal of historical records, the reader follows the early 1900s story of Lydia Jackson Schweitzer, a respectable married woman who was a church volunteer, but also led a secret life in the Barbary Coast, and had a boundless compassion for those less fortunate than herself. It becomes clear that Lydia's path crossed that of the wolfman. When Cree eventually sees a photo of Lydia, she recognizes something of herself and indeed, the past story is the most intriguing part of this novel, though the present one throws up a few big surprises as well.

It turns out that Bert and Ray have quite a history, one that's not over yet, and Cree is caught in the middle, attempting to stop an escalating violence. Though the plot developed slowly, I enjoyed the last half of Bones of the Barbary Coast very much. I appreciated its message that people are rarely simply what they seem and, as Lydia said, 'The stranger amongst us is no stranger but only ourselves reflected in the mirror of another' and what matters most is 'how we choose to be worthy beings, or do not' in our brief lives.

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