Reviewed by: Pete Barber
Approximate word count: 90,000-95,000 words
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Toni Dwiggins is a technical writer who has turned her hand to writing fiction. She has published two other novels: Interrupt, a science fiction piece, and Volcano, which, like Badwater, is part of the Forensic Geology Series
Cassie and her older partner and mentor, Walter, are forensic geologists. They are called in by the FBI to help trace some highly radioactive waste stolen from a nuclear storage facility in Death Valley.
The opening sequence hooked me. The author did a terrific job of pulling me right into the story by describing a mysterious figure walking down the road. The lead characters—Cassie and Walter—are multi-faceted and interesting in their own right, and the interaction between them works well throughout the piece. Their background (necessary because this is the first in a series) is well explained as the story progresses—no back-story info dump required. I found the nuclear science interesting and the people dealing with the radioactive waste felt real especially in the way they used nicknames for the highly dangerous materials they were dealing with—it humanized what might otherwise have been a dry subject. Having radioactive material as the quest raised the stakes considerably.
The writing is tight. I jarred a little at first with the mixed use of first and third person, but once I understood what was going on, I no longer noticed. My only issue with the story was the difficulty I found in visualizing the scenes. Partly this is because the protagonists are geologists and so they describe the world as a geologist would see it. Partly though, the author didn’t give enough specifics about size and distance, or some similes that would have offered a guide (is it bigger than a football field etc). I often found myself not knowing if something was twenty yards away, or twenty miles. A large part of the end-game is played out in mine shafts and I had no concept of how far, how deep, how tall or wide these tunnels where. There are a couple of maps at the front of the book, which I didn’t see until after I’d finished (doh!). But even so, they aren’t a lot of use when reading on an e-book.
Baring that gripe, this is a solid story. I think it would appeal in particular to readers with an interest in geology and/or with knowledge of the Death Valley region.
Rating: **** Four stars