Kathryn Lasky Knight is an award-winning children's book author who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Perhaps not coincidentally, the protagonist of her mysteries, Calista Jacobs, is an award-winning children's book author who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There are a few important things in Calista's life. One is her work. As she tackles the job of illustrating a children's book, Calista shows us that she cares deeply about how a person, especially a child, perceives her work. Knight portrays the job of illustration in such loving detail that I wished I were an illustrator.
Calista loves Charley, her son, who is turning out very much to be like his father - red-haired, brash, irreverent, contemplative and serious yet full of strange energy and creativity.
Calista loves her husband, Tom, an astrophysicist who made a living with his thoughts, but who loved to tinker. He invented a Time Slicer, a gadget that made improved age analyses on rocks, and went out West to test it. Someone put a rattlesnake in his sleeping bag. In Trace Elements, it is a year after Tom's death, when Charley finds the Time Slicer in the basement. It appears that the Time Slicer did more than just guess the age of rocks. Way too many people seem to be interested in the gadget, including the CIA. Another man dies the same way Tom did. Skullduggery in the Peabody Museum and the Smithsonian. In Mortal Words, now three years since Tom's death (that's the way Calista gauges time), Charley is into computers, which comes in handy when he is looking into why an author of children's science books was murdered. Weirdly enough, the answer points both to bioscience and a Texas bible college. Archie Baldwin, who had a brief entrance in Trace Elements, shows up as a love interest in this one.
She and Charley followed the ramp toward the advent of the Neanderthal man seventy thousand years ago. There was a mound of dirt with some dried flowers on it. A woman and child were shown near the grave holding another bunch of flowers. The woman had a comforting arm around the child's shoulders. His face was buried in her fur wrap. A caption read "Pollen evidence on grave mounds indicates an early stirring of man's spiritual as well as aesthetic awareness and his growing awareness of himself as a social creature." In other words, Calista thought, these weren't tree sloths, they were grieving human beings. Five million years of natural selection and what was the most precious refinement? The most elegant adaptation of man's evolution? The upright posture? The opposable thumb? No, Calista thought, the human tear. Salt and water.
In Mumbo Jumbo, Archie and Charley are in Arizona, doing archeological things, when they run into a cult that may have kidnapped a mayor, or worse, and is trying to hide something in a big piece of desert. Charley asks Calista to bring out his dad's Time Slicer - he's going to find out what's going on.
In Dark Swan Charley can now grow a mustache, and Calista is house-sitting for Archie's Beacon Hill parents, who have lots of money, and neighbors named Queenie, Bootsey and Titty. And they keep dying…
Kathryn Knight's mysteries are well crafted, intelligent, and pack a punch. Her characters are real, her plots life-like. I also like the way she's not afraid to discuss Piaget or cosmology for a paragraph or two, as though she's sure we readers wouldn't mind thinking as well as just reading.
Check out Kathyrn Lasky Knight's homepage.