Latest book review: Volcano Watch by Toni Dwiggins

Volcano Watch, independently published by author Toni Dwiggins (no star rating given for indies)

LOVED this book! If you’ve ever vacationed in the eastern Sierra (Bishop or Mammoth Lakes, California), you must read it.

Summary: (mystery/police procedural; science thriller/forensic geology)  Forensic geologists Cassie Oldfield and Walter Shaws are back in Toni Dwiggins’ follow-up to Badwater (set in Death Valley). The mayor of Mammoth Lakes, California, a ski resort town set high in the eastern Sierra over a vast and ancient volcanic caldera, has gone missing. She left behind a scrawled note: No way out. With the volcano stirring and evacuation planning underway, this warning adds urgency to the investigation of what turns out to be a murder. Cassie, a lifelong resident of the community, works to figure out what the mayor knew and who tried to silence her, while the town simmers in fearful anticipation of a possible eruption.

Review: Volcano Watch is a must-read for anyone who knows the eastern Sierra, is fascinated by volcanos, or just likes a well-written mystery with a small town setting and characters whose lives have been intertwined since childhood. I couldn’t put this one down (and that’s not normal for me). Dwiggins has improved significantly on what she started with Badwater and this book easily matches the quality of most traditionally published thrillers.

I was once again especially drawn to the science in this story. Forensic geology–picking clues from the mud in a murder victim’s boot, for example, to determine where she last walked on earth–is really cool and just enough of the subject is conveyed here to please the reader. Dwiggins also has a phenomenal knowledge of the natural world in the eastern Sierra, using plenty of relevant details of tree types at elevations, thermal activity, hot springs, fumaroles, and of course volcanic eruptions. She uses some of my favorite real-world locations–especially Hot Creek–and real activities, such as biathlon and gold mining, to great effect in the plot.

Character development is rich, with several town residents who leap out of the page. Probably the most intriguing is Adrian Krom, an emergency operations vulcanologist sent by the federal government. Cassie’s (and our) impression of him constantly changes as his actions show an unpredictable combination of loyalty and ruthlessness. And I have to say that in terms of character, the scene with the morphine injection rocked; if you read this book you’ll know what I mean.

The first half of Volcano Watch is structured like a mystery, and the tone is brooding as Cassie mourns the loss of a friend while the geologists monitor the volcano in anticipation of raising the watch status. The book is written entirely in first person from Cassie’s point of view. I recommend that you read a few pages for free and see if you like her voice; I did, but not all readers may appreciate the voice which is quite distinctive. The latter part of the book turns into pure thriller with enough heat and ash for any action fan.

If you enjoy this book, you might enjoy: Boiling Point by Karen Dionne

FCC disclaimer: A free e-copy of this book was given to me by the author for review.  As always, I made no guarantee that I would read the book or post a positive review.

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