Bones of the Barbary Coast: A Cree Black Novel
Bloomsbury, 2006 (2006)
Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
ones of the Barbary Coast
is the third Cree Black mystery following
City of Masks
Land of Echoes
. Lucretia '
' 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.
ree 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
by Bert's forensic anthropologist friend, Dr. Skobold, because of the skeleton's extreme deformities.
he 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?
n 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.
t 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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