Moonscape (Nellie Burns and Moonshine Mystery)

Written by Julie Weston
Review by Valerie Adolph

This novel is set in southwestern Idaho in the early years of the 20th century. Featuring photographer Nellie Burns and her dog Moonshine, this is an adventure mystery set in some of the most difficult terrain in the US.

It opens with three strangers inquiring for directions to the remote and hard-to-traverse lava fields. Two of the three are later found dead, one pierced by a stalactite in a cave. The plot unfolds from there in complex and unexpected ways, with Nellie assisting the local sheriff and the mayor as they investigate the caves and lava flows of what has become known as the “Craters of the Moon,” now a National Monument and Preserve.

The era of clapped-out old mining towns here meets a more modern era of automobiles and telephones plus, of course, Nellie’s up-to-date camera to record details of crime scenes as well as the eerie beauty of landscapes and caves.

A multiplicity of characters makes the tale rather confusing, although Nellie herself and her dog are clearly defined. Normally I would say the protagonist is Nellie, as she is the character whose actions the reader most often follows. But the protagonist in this novel is the setting. The caves and lava flows create a lunar landscape marked on maps for many years as “unexplored.” More than any other character, this setting controls the action and thrusts itself to the forefront.

The achievement of this author with this novel lies in bringing this largely unknown but eerily intriguing landscape to the attention of a wider circle of readers who might never have known about it otherwise.