Destinations: Tucson and San Francisco Bay area
Book: Fracture (2011) by Susan Cummins Miller
Susan Cummins Miller’s last book, Fracture, kept me guessing–and reading–until geologist Frankie McFarlaine and her boyfriend unravel the complex mystery that involves Philo’s family. That would be the boyfriend, oddly-named Philo Dain, a Special Forces kind of guy who runs a top-notch private detective agency in Tucson.
Frankie and Philo are just getting reacquainted after his recent return from Afghanistan when his uncle shows up wanting Philo’s help locating some valuable coins. Philo doesn’t like his Uncle, but because of inheritance, he partly owns the coins, so he agrees. The uncles’ trophy wife turns up dead and Uncle Derek, a man used to buying whatever he wants–including respect– is the prime suspect.
The plot is too complex to summarize without giving something away. Tension builds and along with the physical threats to our hero and heroine, plenty of puzzle solving is involved. It even gets a bit Ludlum-esque when a rare coin dealer and an academic get involved trying to “decode” a family chess set that turns out to be museum-quality rare.
Meanwhile, Miller paints a realistic picture of her native Tucson, and similarly evocative scenes in a house on a cliff above the foggy San Francisco coast and the family ranch which holds the final clues to the secrets.
Miller’s Frankie McFarlane mystery series started with the the publication in 2002 of Death Assemblage. Since then she has published a total of five Frankie McFarlane mysteries and has finished a sixth–each with a geological reference in the title. Her newest book, out next year, is Chasm, set in the Grand Canyon.
The earlier books emphasized geology–Frankie seemed to stumble on bodies every time she takes students out in the field for research–and the skill set that being a scientist contributes to Frankie the myster-solver. The importance of Frankie’s geology background is dialed down in Fracture, as Frankie shares focus with the adventure-hero Philo. However, she still is independent, resourceful and smart as the dickens. And we do learn a few things about the composition of the earth around San Francisco–and fractures and earthquakes that take place in the ground as well as those that split families.
The characters are vivid in Fracture. Miller provides us an almost tactile experience of the contrast between sweltering summer Tucson, and cool, damp San Francisco. This mystery is a keeper.