In the shadow of the Mormon church, a 19th-century conspiracy is about to be shattered by a 21st-century forensic artist. In 1857, a wagon train in Utah was assaulted by a group of militant Mormons calling themselves the Avenging Angels. One hundred and forty people were murdered, including unarmed men, women, and children. The Mountain Meadows Massacre remains controversial to this day—but the truth may be written on the skulls of the victims. When renowned forensic artist Gwen Marcey is recruited to reconstruct the faces of recently unearthed victims at Mountain Meadows, she isn’t expecting more than an interesting gig . . . and a break from her own hectic life. But when Gwen stumbles on the ritualized murder of a young college student, her work on the massacre takes on a terrifying new aspect, and research quickly becomes a race against modern-day fundamentalist terror. As evidence of a cover-up mounts—a cover-up spanning the entire history of the Mormon church—Gwen finds herself in the crosshairs of a secret society bent on fulfilling prophecy and revenging old wrongs. Can a forensic artist reconstruct two centuries of suppressed history . . . before it repeats itself? In A Cry from the Dust, Carrie Stuart Parks utilizes her own background as a celebrated, FBI-trained forensic artist to blend fact and fiction into a stunning mystery.
** I was given a complimentary copy of this book from BookLookBloggers.com in return for an honest review.
This was one of my first reads for the new year and it's now my first entry on my favorites for 2015! I think I barreled through this book in about 2 1/2 days! I found that the story was made even more interesting by the fact that the author herself actually is a forensic artist (like the main character), and that this storyline was inspired by real historical events.
The story opens in Mountain Meadows, Utah in the 1850s with a wagon train being attacked. At first, the attackers are thought to be Native American, but within just a few pages it's revealed that the real enemy is an army of rogue Mormons calling themselves the Avenging Angels. This army massacres most of the wagon train party, only allowing a small group of children (all under the age of 8) to live. No explanation for the attack is given. At least not at first. But answers are revealed as the story moves along. After that first intense chapter, the rest of the story takes place in modern times where the reader meets protagonist / forensic artist Gwen Marcey. Gwen is going through one serious rough patch in life -- surviving cancer, adjusting to a recent divorce, not to mention trying to keep the lines of communication open with her teenage daughter (who is a little resentful towards the parentals about their decision to divorce, does the whole "acting out" thing. Teen years -- fun for the whole fam, right?! X-D). As if that were not enough, Gwen is also having to deal with the repercussions of a book her ex-husband wrote -- a novel, he swears! -- a thinly veiled portrait of how he viewed life with Gwen, which basically paints her as a emotionally unstable whackadoodle. It seems like everyone and their dog gets ahold of this novel, which ends up putting cracks in Gwen's reliability around the workplace. Seems like everyone can obviously see the "novel" is about Gwen. Desperate for new work and a change of environment, Gwen accepts the job of reconstructing the faces of three victims (their found skulls) of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Her work has her set up in a viewing area of the Mountain Meadows Memorial Site where visitors can watch her do her thing.
It's on one of these days, when visitors are passing through, asking questions about the tragedy, that Gwen has a confrontational moment with a few of the guests. She's simply giving the history of the incident when these people become strangely hostile about what she's saying. It then turns into quite the scene. Before she knows what's going on, she's got one girl fainting right in front of her and while she's distracted with that, someone manages to destroy one of the reconstructed faces, setting Gwen's work back at least a week. When Gwen comes back to her work station the next day, she discovers that the whole Memorial Center has been ransacked, ALL of her work has been destroyed and one guard has been killed.
The more she investigates, the more Gwen associates with people who were there the day of the hostile encounter, the more of these witnesses wind up dead. Who is behind all this destruction and what is it they don't want the public to find out?! Whoever the killer is, they are closing in on Gwen, not afraid to leave clues virtually on her doorstep.
I had a lot of so-so reads in 2014, so when I started this one up just a couple days ago, I was thrilled to have something that made my heart race once again! This novel -- the tension it made me feel from start to finish -- reminded me of what I love so much about reading. It shows how unnerving and infuriating acts of terrorism can be, how it so often strikes in the most innocuous places, and how it doesn't necessarily have to be from an outside country to be considered terrorism. Sometimes the most frightening threats are right out our backdoor. That's what gave me the chills about this story... that terror of not knowing who to trust, who is honestly on your side.
As the story gets nearer to the end, the POV seems to flip back and forth more and more between Gwen's 1st person perspective and the 3rd person perspective of Gwen's daughter, Aynslee. At first there are definable breaks between the two ( by that, I mean that sometimes the switch happens mid-chapter but it's easy enough to see when it switches over) but as you get closer to the end, these breaks start to disappear. This may have been done to up the tension factor that much more. If so, it works!
There were a couple little cracks in the perfection for me, but oddly enough nothing that detracted this from still being on my 5 star list! I found myself riveted through and through and anxiously await the next installments (I hear this is planned as at least a trilogy, maybe more?). The couple issues I had:
1) Good Lord, but Aynslee's attitude was irritating through most of the story. I know, I know, she's a teen. And she does come around. But just like a real teen, waiting for her to get to that point and having to listen to her moan and grumble along the way.. UGH lol
2) Just a little thing, but I was surprised that as a forensic artist, Gwen didn't know what a death mask was. Really?! Seems like it would at least kind of be related to her field. I learned about the history of death masks just in general jr high history classes, so I don't know, just seemed strange that a person who specializes in forensics could completely miss hearing about them at all in their studies.
That's it though. Other than that, loved, loved, loved this. Already have Book 2 way high up on my Book Wish List now :-D