Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Naturalist by Andrew Mayne

Theo Cray is winding down research in Montana, just days away from the start of a new semester,  when he's arrested. It seems a former student of his has been brutally murdered just a few miles away and the coincidence of their both being in the same place is enough for the police to pull him in as a suspect. Fortunately for Theo, he's quickly released when it appears the killing was at the hands of a bear rather than a human. 

Cray, a computational biologist, isn't so sure the case is that easily closed, though. And when he's mistakenly given some of the victim's blood, which comes paired with a hair from the beast that supposedly killed her, he's even more certain. 

But the cops have their man, or bear, and are certain Cray is driven solely by misplaced grief. If they're right, though, why does Cray keep finding bodies?

This is such a cool premise! I'm a longtime reader of mysteries and it's always refreshing when someone comes up with a new twist. Theo Cray is a professor, and like other erstwhile detectives thrown into crime investigation due to circumstance, he uses his skills to untangle a web of clues the police aren't interested in seeing.

Cray uses a combination of computer programming and biology to drive his investigation, tracking data points to create a map that could (and does) reveal more victims. Tracking the data turns out to be the easy part. Convincing the authorities that he's a. a person to be taken seriously and b. that the killer may be human rather than bear are the hard parts.

To be fair, it seems quite clear to the police involved in the case that they have a killer bear on their hands. And Cray's evidence otherwise comes across as that from a crazed person who was a suspect just shortly prior to revealing said evidence.

Like a dog with a bone, our stubborn hero just won't let it go. Which makes the reading all the more fun.

In Cray, Andrew Mayne has built a fascinating amateur sleuth with a unique set of skills that sets him a bit apart from other mystery/thriller main characters. The Naturalist is apparently the start of a new series - book two, Looking Glass, is due out in March and I'll definitely be first in line to grab a copy!

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