Local author Scott Graham continues his successful National Park Mystery Series with book four, Yosemite Fall. The spectacular setting of the granite cliffs of Yosemite Valley frame the heart-stopping, dangerous sport of rock climbing.
In the story, Chuck Bender of Durango, along with Janelle, his wife of three years, are in the valley for a working vacation. Also along are Janelle’s brother Clarence, Chuck’s assistant, and stepdaughters Carmelita, 12, and Rosie, 10.
The vacation portion is a reunion for Chuck with his climbing buddies of years past. The gathering is taking place at the renowned Camp 4, where after World War II, the sport of big-wall rock climbing got its start. Camp 4 was recorded on the National Register of historic places in 2003. . The reunion was timed to coincide with the annual Yosemite Slam, a sport-climbing competition conducted on a tower, not the granite rocks of the valley.
The work section of Chuck’s trip is research contracted with the Indigenous Tribespeople Foundation to look into two killings that took place in the valley in 1852. Chuck’s company, Bender Archaeological, is looking for evidence from 150 years ago that would shed light on the murders.
The story opens with Thorpe, one of Chuck’s friends who has created a career by transitioning from rock climbing to wingsuit flying, jumping from Glacier Point to shoot through Sentinel Gap. This is like trying to thread a needle, by flying between two cliff faces. Wingsuit jumping makes humans soar like flying squirrels. It was developed by rock climbers who weren’t getting enough of an adrenaline rush.
Next, readers witness young Carmelita climbing up the tower for the first time. After this accomplishment, she begs to compete in The Slam. Janelle is reluctant, but she is swayed by the rest of the family to let her compete. When an accident happens, the competition is threatened, and Chuck is accused by an uptight ranger of having something to do with the mishap.
To escape from these fraught events, Chuck, Janelle, Clarence and the girls go off to investigate the setting of the mysterious deaths of the past.
While exploring, Rosie makes an important discovery. Excited, the group continues the quest, only to have a scare that sends them back to camp. From this event forward, Chuck and his family are drawn into a web of actions that threaten the reunion, their livelihood and even their very lives.
Graham has crafted a multilevel mystery that plumbs the emotions of greed and jealousy that cause some people to ignore their humanity. He also weaves into the story a vast store of information about the history of Yosemite, details about rock climbing and paramedic procedures.
Graham cleverly informs readers about the practice of archaeology by explaining its techniques to Rosie. He focuses the spotlight on one of America’s favorite national parks to great advantage. He also features the growing bond of the Bender family with its minor quarrels, humor and bountiful love.
Yosemite Fall is a welcome addition to this mystery series.
Leslie Doran is a retired teacher, freelance writer and former New Mexican who claims Durango as her forever home.