Ellie Mallory has few regrets when she loses her position as a government archivist after her arrest at a suffragist rally. Her exit ends with a neat bit of rebellion when Ellie grabs an unassuming Psalter that has been mis-catalogued.
Inside the book Ellie finds a mysterious stone with odd carvings along with a map to a hidden city that shouldn’t exist. The map claims to lead the way to a Mayan city deep in the jungle that was flourishing long after the civilization’s collapse. Finding the city could make Ellie’s career and open doors for her that have long been barred because of her gender.
When pursuers threaten to take Ellie’s prize out from under her, she embarks on a journey on her own to Belize City where she plans to mount her own expedition and find the city first. Ellie reluctantly hires on Adam Bates, a local surveyor and experienced explorer, to help her reach the hidden location.
As Ellie and Adam approach their destination there realize there is more at stake than credit for an unprecedented discovery. Dark forces are at work and Ellie and Adam are being drawn to their source in The Smoke Hunter (2016) by Jacquelyn Benson.
The Smoke Hunter is Benson’s debut novel.
The Smoke Hunter unfortunately has a slow start. A prologue dating from 1632 sets the scene but also delays drawing readers into the story. Despite the breakneck pacing and constant action, Ellie’s journey is slow to start with substantial setup as she discovers the map and also as she works to begin her exhibition.
Stilted dialogue and overlaps in the narrative from chapters that alternate close third-person point of view work to create an uneasy distance between readers and what should be a plot filled with urgency and immediacy.
Ellie and Adam are unlikely allies and a powerful force as they learn to trust each other and work together over the course of The Smoke Hunter. Readers willing to put in time with the setup in the beginning will be rewarded with a story filled with light adventure and high action.
Possible Pairings: Heart of Fire by Linda Howard, The Secret Sister by Elizabeth Lowell, Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel, Sandstorm by James Rollins, Indiana Jones, Romancing the Stone