Author: Philip Carter
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK, 2011
Hardcover, 464 pages
First Line: Rosie knew the stranger had come to kill her as soon as he walked into the circle of light cast by their fire.
Starting with an escape from a Siberian prison camp in 1937, Altar of Bones travels to the present day in a non-stop deadly quest for two items that several groups will stop at nothing to possess. San Francisco lawyer Zoë Dmitroff receives a letter from the grandmother she never knew telling her that she's the "keeper" of an ancient secret concerning a Siberian cave known as the Altar of Bones. At his father's death, government agent Ry O'Malley learns that the old man knew the location of a film that would rock the entire country. The two team up to stay alive and to get their hands on the secrets that others are killing to find.
This is the type of book that is difficult to review without giving things away, so I'm heading straight for my reactions. The first two thirds of the book was an endless chase scene involving our two intrepid heroes, and the fact that stealth was not in the bad guys' vocabularies bothered me a bit. These people were conducting high speed chases at all times of the day and night firing endless rounds of ammunition from an assortment of guns. They did not care how many witnesses were around or how high the body count was. (Perhaps they counted on local police departments' budgets being cut so drastically that there would be no investigations.)
I tired of the chase, primarily because of the psychotic conducting most of the chasing. At this stage of my life, my tolerance for fictional characters who love inflicting pain and death is practically nil. They turn my stomach, and they make me extremely angry. (I may seem to be a mild-mannered book blogger, but I do have a very nasty temper.)
I was also amazed at how lucky Zoë was. She headed to Europe, using her credit cards all along the way, and wondered how the bad guys always knew where she was. She may not watch much television or read much crime fiction, but she specializes in defending battered and abused women and getting them away from their boyfriends and husbands. She knows something about flying beneath the radar. The relationship between Zoë and Ry was inevitable and made parts of the book sound like an erotic romance. However, even though characterization is not the prime directive in a thriller, Zoë and Ry were well-drawn enough for me to care about what happened to them.
Even though I tired of the bad guys and the drawn-out chase scenes, I found that Zoë, Ry, and the dual prizes of the Altar of Bones and the film kept a grip on my imagination through to the end of the book. Hopefully the author's next thriller will contain a little less formula.