Andrew Mayne’s new crime novel introduces readers to professor and computational biology expert Theo Cray.
When one of Theo’s ex-students, Juniper Parsons, is found dead deep in the Montana forest, her body brutally mauled and ripped apart, the police question Cray. While the professor is a person of interest early on, it’s eventually ruled that Parsons was the victim of a bear attack.
Theo, who possesses a brilliant mind that’s trained to see even the most difficult patterns, isn’t buying what the police are selling. Instead, he’s convinced that Parsons was killed by another vicious predator, but in the form of a human serial killer. His investigation quickly turns up other potential cases of bear maulings with similar circumstances to Parsons’ death.
As he continues to build his case, Theo’s theory becomes so convincing that even the police think a serial killer is on the loose–but they think Theo himself is the killer.
With the police hot on his heels and bodies piling up, Theo realizes the best way to keep himself from behind bars is to help put the real killer there. But each time he makes a convincing discovery, he looks more guilty in the eyes of the law. It’s a catch-22 that he juggles while racing to find and stop the sadistic killer, who remains one step ahead.
Mayne writes in the first-person present narrative, which isn’t too common for this genre. It works fine, but other issues plague the story after its quick and entertaining start. For instance, Theo is very socially awkward and dorky–and not in the same way that C.J. Box’s iconic Joe Pickett is sort of a loner who doesn’t have much to say. Theo’s awkwardness makes following him, well, awkward. Likewise, the dialogue seems contrived and forced at times. However, the real problem is that the book teases a significant buildup that never materializes and, in the end, is pretty underwhelming.
On the plus side, there is a lot of really cool science thrown into the story. The way it’s presented makes it easily understandable, though some of it might not be completely factual. Either way, it adds an interesting element to things–one that fans of Michael Crichton and James Rollins might enjoy.
Andrew Mayne, as a magician, is known for creating illusions by using misdirection. Sadly, he lacks that magic here, as The Naturalist falls flat after a promising start. The open-ended conclusion doesn’t help, either, but a surprising lack of twists and turns is what ultimately does the plot in.
Author: Andrew Mayne
Pages: 380 (Paperback)
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Release Date: October 1, 2017
Book Spy Rating: 4.0/10