Florida-based biologist Doc Ford finds himself in the middle of a case that involves murder, stolen ancient relics and a missing elephant. A biologist's life isn't generally exciting, but Florida-based Doc Ford does love a challenge. So when his good friend Tomlinson asks for some help with a case, he couldn't say no. A Cree Indian acquaintance of Ford's is looking for two small owl-shaped stones that were stolen years ago from his mother's house. He came to Tomlinson because he and Ford live in a part of southern Florida known as "Bone Alley." The area contains a number of areas that contain ancient bones and other antiquities, and it's also the home of some collectors who aren't afraid of acquiring new items through less-than-legal channels.
Ford and Tomlinson make some inquiries and think they have a lead on the current location of the stones. A infamous local collector named Finn Tovar is reputed to own some stones that might be the ones they're looking for and their Cree Indian client Duncan Fallsdown convinces the men to search his home. It helps that Tovar recently died and the trio suspect that since he has no living relatives, his collection at home might still be untouched. But when they arrive they confront not just a man hauling three duffel bags of artifacts out of the home, but also a masked gunman who starts shooting at everyone. The thief tries to steal Doc's boat to make his getaway, but Doc overpowers him, takes his three bags and leaves him in the water a mile off shore. The masked gunman leaves as police arrive, but it's not the last they'll see of this guy. They don't know who the masked gunman is, but he seemed to be targeting both Ford's group and the thief. Was he also there for Finn's artifacts or is there another agenda?
At about the same time, Ford is hired by Leland Albright, the third generation owner of some land that was once the home of the family's Potassium mine. A new mining company wants to buy the land and he wants Ford to assess the health of the soil and the water in several ponds. But when Ford sees the land, he learns that it's also the site of a legendary boneyard that local artifact hunters have been trying to get access to for years. The boneyard is protected not just by an electrified fence, but by an elephant that Leland's father saved from a traveling circus. The boneyard is also next to a large pond, which Leland tells Ford is rumored to contain a cache of ancient elephant tusks. Ford then meets Leland's family, which includes a money-hungry third wife and step-son Owen, who reportedly has a gambling problem.
The masked gunman is searching for the three bags of artifacts and after killing at least one person, is able to track them back to Tomlinson and Ford. He confronts Ford and threatens him, but he also inadvertently reveals some facts to Ford. It appears that Owen is in debt to a bookie for nearly $500,000 and was planning on using the artifacts from Tovar's home to settle the debt. The gunman is there to make sure Owen follows through with the plan and he seems more than willing to kill a few people to make sure everything goes as planned.
Ford also realizes that the masked gunman is interested in the Albright land and it isn't until he talks to Leland that he realizes the man has a hidden stash of artifacts that had been collected by his father. He has Leland check his safe and when Leland realizes everything is gone he understands that it had to have been stolen by Owen, since he is the only person that had the combination. Ford tries to implicate Owen to Leland by explaining about the gambling debts. But Leland has trouble believing his stepson could be that evil.
Ford leaves the Leland land and is confronted down the road by the masked gunman. He learns that the gunman's name is Quint and he tells Ford that Owen and a college friend are on the Albright land now. They plan to kill the elephant, harvest its tusks and steal the remaining pieces from Leland's office. As Quint prepares to shoot Ford, he's distracted by gunfire and screams coming from the Albright land. Ford overpowers Quint and leaves him unconscious as he rushes back to save Leland.
Leland arrives at the site of the boneyard and finds Owen has been trampled to death by the elephant. Owen's friend is missing and the elephant has been wounded. He also spots a wounded Leland on the ground near his office. As Ford tries to help him, Quint shows up, overpowers Ford and forces him at gunpoint to help him track down the elephant. But as they approach the elephant, Ford escapes and when Quint turns to chase him, he's trampled to death by the elephant.
Unknown to Doc and Leland, police are at the same time running a sting operation when they arrest Leland's wife trying to sell some of the items Owen stole from Leland's safe. Those pieces will be returned to Leland and Doc makes arrangements to return the three bags of artifacts to the police. Many of those items are also Leland's and will eventually be returned to him.
What Ford doesn't tell the police is that he removed the two owl stones from the bags before he returned them and he's given them to Fallsdown. Ford's last role in the case is to visit Leland and see how he is doing following the revelations about the thefts and his family. Leland seems to be doing okay, but he says that the elephant disappeared the night of the shootout. He shows Ford that there are fresh elephant tracks leading into the pond that contains the ancient elephant tusks. But there aren't any tracks leading out and Leland hasn't been able to find the elephant's body. So if the injured elephant did walk into the pond to die, where is the body? And what made it decide to enter a pond that was used thousands of years ago as an ancient burial ground? Ford decides that some mysteries are better left to the imagination and leaves for home and his next case.
Best part of story, including ending:
The artifact thefts and the location of an actual "Bone Alley" was a real eye-opener. It's not something I was aware of before I read the book and the fact that the overall facts are real made the story even more interesting.
Best scene in story:
The scene towards the end of the book in which Leland reveals what he's found on his land. He's lost almost everything and finds comfort in the old bones and in the land that he spent his youth exploring with his grandfather.
Opinion about the main character:
Doc Ford is an interesting character. Part scientist, part explorer. Not quite Indiana Jones, but he can handle himself in a tough situation. But his character also has some shades of grey and that makes him a more compelling person.