Shortly after the events of The Scorpion’s Tail, archeologist Nora Kelly is approached to lead a dig at the purported UFO crash site in Roswell, New Mexico by driven billionaire Lucas Tappan. Tappan wants to prove once and for all a UFO crashed at Roswell, and not a weather balloon. No sooner does she start work than a pair of dead bodies are found. Not little green men, but a man and a woman shot in the head and dating back to the 1940’s. Nora calls FBI Special Agent Corrie Swanson and soon the two intrepid heroes are once again thrust into an adventure filled with danger against a shadowy government agency that will stop at nothing to prevent them from learning the truth of the Roswell crash at Diablo Mesa.
Diablo Mesa is a perfectly serviceable Preston & Child blockbuster that moves fast and ends with world-shaking revelations that could spin the series in a new direction if it continues. It is a bit hard to imagine where the series could go now. While not a finale, Diablo Mesa seems to serve as a capper to the Nora Kelly trilogy and shakes up the status quo of the series. The body count is high, including the death of one series regular, and the action is well-trod but engaging. Nora and Corrie make a good team, and despite both having frosty exteriors do seem finally to be sharing a friendship.
The problem is we have been here several times. For the uninitiated, the Nora Kelly series is the second spin-off series from the series of 20+ thrillers that feature the brilliant and enigmatic FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast. How many shadowy off-the-books government groups are there in the Pendergast-verse? Pendergast himself has battled at least three that I can think of off-hand. Nora has fought two now in only three books. This whole series has always used inexplicable death to kick off a much larger mystery and adventure. It’s baked into the DNA. This means the stories have to get bigger and bigger to match what came before. The revelation of what crashed at Roswell in Diablo Mesa is a perfect example. I won’t spoil it, but what the book reveals either sets up a radical shift going forward or is just another one of those “this exists but try to ignore it” aspect of the Pendergast-verse along with time travel, life-sustaining elixirs, and terrifying monsters.
For anyone that has been on the Pendergast-verse journey all along, this book explicitly jumps present day to “2022” (without a COVID-19 in-universe). This makes sense from an ease-of-writing perspective but not so much from a logical standpoint. In Diablo Mesa Nora is in her mid-30s and it’s been seven since the events of Cemetery Dance (published in 2009). The jump is necessary to get to the technology, especially advanced LIDAR, that the characters are using. Still, if you have been paying attention to how the Pendergast-verse stories tend to follow on each other, in some cases immediately after the last one ended, the chronology is very screwy jumping more than a decade forward from in-universe time. Likely no one else will care about this but I will admit it bugs me.
I think Diablo Mesa is the weakest of the Nora Kelly trilogy. It’s still good, and a page-turning potboiler that will keep you up late finishing it, but the overall series desperately needs a reinvention to keep my interest engaged. Oh, who am I kidding? I’ll keep reading every new installment until the heat death of the universe.
Previous entries in the Nora Kelly Series.
Old Bones (Nora Kelly #1)
The Scorpion’s Tail (Nora Kelly #2)
Nora Kelly also appeared in Thunderhead, The Cabinet of Curiosities, Dance of Death, The Book of the Dead, and Cemetery Dance.
Corrie Swanson also appeared in Still Life with Crows, Dance of Death, The Book of the Dead, and White Fire.
NOTE: Just moments before posting this review I read that the next novel in the Pendergast series will be coming in early 2023: The Cabinet of Dr. Leng. Longtime readers of the series know exactly what that means and personally, after the ending of Bloodless, I am really excited for this next one. Lincoln Child also mentioned that his newest Jeremy Logan novel Chrysalis will be coming out this summer. I don’t know when these guys sleep.