The Weaker Half

The rest of the folks in the "Indian mystery"genre are strictly for the aficionado: mediocre writers, New Age spiritualists, parvenus looking to make a buck on a new fad. There is not much to recommend them, but they may appeal to special interests. I confess that my ranking of Medawar may be an example of that weakness. My enjoyment of Medawar's subject matter helps me turn a blind (well, unfocused) eye on her weaknesses as a stylist, for example; which may be how she got into the higher rankings. Is she really in a different class than, say, Sandra West Prowell? Well, I think so. But what do I know?


The Killing of Monday Brown, by Sandra West Prowell
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Sandra West Prowell

Prowell is working Montana the way J. A. Jance is mining Arizona with her Joanna Brady series. For Prowell, it's Phoebe Siegel, introduced in a good hommage to Joanna Brady (By Evil Means), a novel in which Phoebe tracks down the killer of her police officer brother. The second novel, The Killing of Monday Brown is the second-best mystery in which the Montana tribes are a main theme. (The best by a wide margin is James Lee Burke's Black Cherry Blues Annotated Bibliography of James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux novels.) In The Killing of Monday Brown, a dealer in Indian artifacts is murdered, and the key suspect is the nephew of a local American Indian cop, Kyle Old Wolf. Phoebe's relationship with Kyle is a big draw of the novel, which explores the illicit trade in Native American antiquities. The third Siegel mystery, When Wallflowers Die, is more concerned with mainstream Montana politics (the murder of a gubernatorial candidate's wife). Like Jamie Harrison, Steve Hamilton, and Michael McGarrity, Prowell belongs more in the "Western mystery" category than the "Indian mystery" category; her Indians are well-portrayed, but usually incidental. Her books are not so much awful as undistinguished. Worth a read, but not especially memorable.


Susan Slater

Susan Slater has written three mystery novels set in New Mexico. In publication order they are The Pumpkin Seed Massacre, Yellow Lies, and Thunderbird. All three star a Pueblo Indian psychologist, Ben Pecos, as the sleuth. I went straight to Thunderbird to try her out, and only found out later that it is actually the first written.

Slater may have the potential to write mystery novels that will satisfy the Hillerman fans, but Thunderbird is at best a weak effort. Its implausibilities are too coincidental to believe (a woman just happens to take a shortcut home that means she just happens to see the crash landing of a jet fighter that just happens to be flown by the husband who abandoned her a few years back). The "surprise" villain is a surprise primarily because his being the villain doesn't make any sense. Character and motivations seem switch back and forth to whatever the author needed to advance the plot at a given moment, and continuity be hanged.

All the elements are here, but they don't quite work. I've been told Thunderbird was Slater's first mystery novel, even though it is more recent than The Pumpkin Seed Massacre and Yellow Lies. Now that I have read Yellow Lies, I'm afraid my judgment stands. Like Thunderbird, the story is ungainly with implausibilities and riddled with loose ends and inconsistencies. When the killer is identified, the secret that kept us and the protagonist from spotting him is so utterly unbelieveable you may wish you'd never started reading.

If you want to give her a try, pick up The Pumpkin Seed Massacre, which is available in paperback. I'll add notes on it eventually. But based on Yellow Lies and Thunderbird, I'm not hurrying out to buy it.


Aimee (and David) Thurlo

David Thurlo grew up in Shiprock, on or near the Big Rez, as the main Navajo reservation is called. Aimee is a native of Cuba (not the one in New Mexico). As credentials to write informed, sensitive novels about the Navajo, that's not much. Aimee cut her literary eye teeth on a series of Harlequin romances with "Indian" themes. You know the type: Eagle's Pumping Heart, Stallion in Feathers, Raven Sighs Mightily, Long Arrow's Hunger: that sort of thing. Comparing the Ella Clah mysteries to Tony Hillerman's Chee/Leaphorn novels is reminiscent of the greasy chef on TV who slurps margarine off a piece of French bread and then exhults, "Pas difference!" If you can't taste the difference, Pierre, that's your problem.

I read two Ella Clah novels, and I'd have to be paid to read another. Ella is a sensible educated Navajo woman (no qualms about messing with dead bodies, which is a major test), a former FBI agent assigned to the Navajo tribal police. The first novel, Blackening Song, begins with her coolly shooting down an armed robber in, I think, Los Angeles during her FBI days; then she returns to the rez. But the Thurlos are into the hoked-up New Age buffet of other people's religion, so Ella has "hunches", and her brother, a hataali (a "medicine man"), works to get her to understand that her "intuitions" are manifestations of her special supernatural role in the future of the tribe (they are possibly some sort of half-baked variant of the Hero Twins, if you are wondering). In the third novel, Bad Medicine, she gets more hunches and bad feelings than an uptight WASP mommy with her kids off at their first summer camp.

It's not so much awful as tiresome. And the novels are all tangled together, not in the sense that characters continue from one book to the next, as they do in most series, after all, but in the sense that each book ends with a not-quite-finished conflict meant to suck you into the next one, a la Cornwell and her endless Temple Quest [sic?] "saga." A villain emerges in the first and gets away. He hovers in the background like a persistent horsefly in the next. He's a "skinwalker," by the way, a real one rather than the fakers sometimes found in Hillerman novels, which puts these "detective" novels in the Gothic horror camp, since skinwalkers are shapeshifting witches. (Throw in Harlequin bloomers, and you get three genres for the price of one; such a deal!) The supervillain apparently gets killed in the second novel, but his secret son (I am not making this up), who is so attuned to his spirit that he can fake his father's handwriting well enough to fool FBI forensics, is out for revenge in Bad Medicine.

And then, and then – you just won't believe this, but I'm totally serious!: Then the secret son's auntie, a little old lady with a cane, turns up on a cliff watching Ella win her big fight with the bad son, who sounds like his daddy now, and she makes really menacing gestures at Ella with her cane and sure enough, there were cane marks around the crimes and Wow, in the NEXT book, Enemy Way, there they are again, cane marks (delicious shudder). Will Ella remember the little old lady with the cane who talked to her and seemed so innocent back there in Bad Medicine? Goll, I hope so. Stay tuned.

The newest novel, Shooting Chant, doesn't promise much hope for improvement. Ella got interested in a guy in Bad Medicine, a Navajo lawyer. Apparently things heated up in Enemy Way, because Ella begins Shooting Chant unmarried and unintentionally pregnant. So much for that modern education; apparently she skipped Sex Ed. If you are still interested, here's a link to Enemy Way that will help you find the rest of the books. That's not a recommendation, remember. You are on your own. I give up.


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James D. Doss

The Shaman Sings is the first in "the Shaman series" (which for some reason recently became "the Charlie Moon series"), and it didn't inspire me to find the others. Doss has a white chief of police, a Ute cop and the cop's precious auntie, a "shaman," to work with, and if this novel is any indication, it just doesn't work. The supernaturalism and folklore may be authentic (I doubt it), but it is not believable. In this novel, the murderer is killed by a supernatural being. Whatever. There are very few things I am more suspicious of than white people writing about someone else's supernaturals.

Like many books of this sort, once you scrape away the "Indian mystic/mystique" veneer, you aren't left with much. The key figures are Scott Parris, a Chicago cop come West to escape the crimes of the big city (and discover that Southern Colorado ain't Paradise), Charlie Moon, a Ute tribal policeman, and "the Shaman", an old Ute granny named Daisy Perika who has become, lately, a stock character or, if you like, caricature. They aren't a very original cast. The characters, major and minor, are wooden and uninteresting, and the plot of The Shaman Sings turns on, of all things, a scientific discovery that borders on science fiction. Doss works at Los Alamos; he not only should know better, he does.

The rest of the Shaman books are, in order, The Shaman Laughs, The Shaman's Bones, The Shaman's Game, The Night Visitor, Grandmother Spider, and White Shell Woman. I picked up a handful of them as secondhand paperbacks; after reading The Shaman Laughs, The Shaman's Bones, and The Shaman's Game (I'm a glutton for punishment), I'm afraid I'm done with Doss. The plots are clumsy and pointless. In each, the crime hinges on fantasy elements bordering on the pre-adolescent: In one, a mysterious nightmare monster that turns out, in defiance of all the superhuman BS we've been told it has managed to do, to be (Spoiler coming!) a guy in a fur suit. In another, a mystic whistle has been stolen and the whole universe is threatened. Uh-huh. You will be happy to know that in this one, the murderer gets his just desserts; his faithful sidekick eats him. I wish it was as funny as it sounds. In the last, the murderer is such an illogical, out-of-nowhere stretch that you will be tempted to burn the book.

Doss is a talentless arrested adolescent with the luck to have stumbled on some marketable schtick. His idea of a tough but sensitive cop is a guy who secretly drops his jaw and slobbers every time he sees an attractive skirt. In The Shaman Laughs (and she doesn't, not once in the entire novel.... Go figure.), Moon is deeply and secretly in love with a rancher's daughter who dies suddenly and pointlessly, causing him to suffer sudden, uncontrollable, intermittent grief. He weeps and prays and wanders disconsolately around the house "he built for her" (a girl he never even dated). Two pages later he's making eyes at a flirtatious widow. Parris meanwhile is miserable because his girlfriend is in Washington, so he decides to console himself by accepting an invitation from the same saucy widow who caught Charlie's grieving eye (and she, we learn from listening to her think, is interchangeably interested in both of them despite no implication that she fools around otherwise and despite the rather distracting and lust-quenching downer that her husband was murdered and castrated a few days earlier). But an hour before Scott is supposed to drop by "for dessert" (wink wink), his girlfriend calls so he takes off for Denver to pick her up at the airport, leaving Charlie to step in for him with the former Mrs. Nightbird.

Both Parris and Moon blush and stammer "Awr, shouks" if a woman younger than their mothers speaks to them. They spend pages in adolescent fantasies about whether this or that cute girl "really likes me." (These are men in their thirties with military records and in one case, an ex-wife he presumably had carnal knowledge of.) And the "cute girls" spend pages drooling mentally over the gorgeous police hunks that they want so bad but they never seem to be interested in girls. Faced with a really cute girl, his tough guys blush, simper, and trip over furniture. In a word, the "love interests" are such witless exchanges that one wonders if the author studied human behavior by watching Saturday morning cartoons. I could go on. But why?

As of this writing, there are three more "Shaman mysteries," The Night Visitor, Grandmother Spider, and White Shell Woman, and no doubt more coming. The Night Visitor hinges on the fantasy that there were Caucasian people in the Americas 30,000 years ago, and features a trio of Doss' patented "women who get all damp and want to get married whenever they see a guy who's 'cute', regardless of his moral, economic, or intellectual gifts." One of them is an archaeologist whose archaeologist daddy encourages her in her lust for a rather stupid, unattractive but somehow "cute" con man, because she isn't getting any younger (she's 24).

If you think Doss' strength is "authentic Indian folklore," consider that his recent titles for the Ute books are borrowed from Navajo mythology. Grandmother Spider is said to be "a funny romp." I shudder to imagine it. Apparently it and White Shell Woman involve some sort of giant supernatural tarantula. Which, given the sacredness of the Grandmother Spider figure in Southwestern Indian cultures, is about as tasteful an idea as the kicking chorus line of crucified Christs in A Clockwork Orange. It saddens me to note that I seem to be the only person willing to say publicly how appallingly tasteless sacrilege is. If you buy these books, don't blame me.

Review of Grandmother Spider
I've been admonished for being too hard on Jimmie Doss, who is a nice young man and lots of fun. I have no doubt he helps little old ladies across the street and never lingers over the pictures in Playboy. But his books are beyond awful, and the really appalling thing is not his writing but his popularity. Lest you think I exaggerate, here is a review of Grandmother Spider (My review of Grandmother Spider), which I managed to buy accidentally in a case lot sale and which was, in defiance of probability, worse than I ever imagined.

One Last Time (I Hope)
I really need to get a grip. There's another book after White Shell Woman, and now that the latter is in paperback, against all my better judgment, I have read it. I want to scream. This time it's ersatz Navajo mythology and Aztec rain making on the Southern Ute rez. Charlie Moon is discovering that ranching is for rich white folks, and when an anthropology student is killed (not before casting longing glances at Charlie and a paleoastronomer, because all women looking at manly men think first of how much they would like to just wriggle in the guy's lap), he gets recruited as a tribal PI to help the bungling FBI agents (one of them thinks there's is a "cowboy song" called "Low Riders in the Sky." Get it? Get it?) solve the case. Daisy the "Shaman" is along for the ride, and the murderer is, as usual, as far fetched as cauliflower in a Hopi garden. Enough already. Who reads this stuff? His publishers compare him to Tony Hillerman and Carl Hiassen. Both writers should sue for defamation of character.

Argh. I found a second-hand copy of Dead Souls and yup, I read it. No change. The great love of Parris' life has had an off-stage fit and dumped him. I think they were married, but one never can keep these things straight in Dossland. Charlie has as least one new love-at-first-sight "girlfriend" (and he has somehow grown to seven feet from his former 6'8"). The lynx on the cover is supposed to be a picture of the cougar that figures in the story, which involves evil twins and a government facility so secret that they can only trust a former Ute policemen to check a security leak. I know; you think I'm babbling. Unfortunately, you are wrong. Sigh.

Later.... Got a free copy of Shadow Man and it's no surprise, for me at least, that nothing has changed. The kind of moronic humor that spews food over, "I know you are, but what am I?" A woman who falls in love at first sight with the hero, who of course falls back at once, at least until the scene is over. A murder so hopelessly stupid and predictable you will groan repeatedly for a good ten pages, and a "conclusion" so utterly unsatisfying that you will dread, among other things, the possibility that Doss thinks his new villain is so neato that he should be brought back in another book.

The popularity of these stupid books is a sad commentary on contemporary literacy. At least Coel and Mitchell are writing for adults.


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Robert Westbrook

Westbrook may be a writer to watch, but his second entry in the Hillerman sweeps, Warrior Circle, did not bode well, and his track record isn't improving. Though his first, Ghost Dancer is a bit more promising than the second (I read them out of order, and yes, the trend is in the wrong direction), it has the same problems that plague Warrior Circle, and after recently reading the third book, Red Moon, I decided it was time to give up on the series. There's a fourth book, Ancient Enemy; I finally found a used copy and checked it out. A bit better, aside from an ending that stretched both my patience and my credulity. Still no cigar.

Westbrook has only a rudinentary knowledge of the Indian peoples he writes about, so bad that, for example, he presents, in total seriousness, this piece of Lakota wisdom: When Howie Moon Deer was an adolescent, his Lakota tunkashila (grandfather) took him aside one day to explain "the difference between white people and Indians." You'll never guess what it is! Indians build small fires and sit close; white men build big fires and sit far back. Zowie. Walk a mile in those moccasins, paleface! Howie goes on for a page to explain what this means and how insightful it turned out to be. All with the sober sincerity of a maudlin drunk passing along wisdom she learned from The Days of Our Lives.

Howie Moon Deer (I suspect sophomoric humor in the name, but maybe I'm just punchy from reading James D. Doss) is glibly cynical in a world so superficial that one tires quickly of his air of superiority to it and wonders why he doesn't get a real life. The blind detective/mentor schtick (Jack Wilder, retired cop and partner, with Moon Deer playing Archie to his Nero Wolfe) is cribbed shamelessly from Jake Page with none of Mo Bowdre's charm, and Howie's "psycho-culinary" theories (curious? Don't be.) get old fast. This is New Yorker territory ("Aren't we clever, to be so deprecatingly amusing about each other in ways only we can appreciate?"): an enclave of Santa Fe, perhaps, but far from New Mexico.

Worse of all, nobody in these books is particularly likeable – neither victims nor villains, not even the bystanders. The "victim" in Ghost Dancer is a rich, womanizing jerk we get to know just well enough that we barely care who shot an arrow through his chest. The "girl friend" (Howie's, that is) in Warrior Circle is a whining, self-absorbed brat whose role in the novel gets bigger, more complicated, less believeable, and more obnoxious as the pages turn. But Howie luvs her, so.... Red Moon pushes the Indian schtick into some areas of questionable taste, a bit like the difference between black guys telling jokes about "niggers" and white guys telling the same jokes with the same epithets. And with Enemy Circle, though we get some interesting and thoughtful representation of the politics of the Northern Pueblos, the emphasis is on a hint of cannibalism and the love interest is a woman most men would have dropped like a rabid cat.

I rank readable genre writers into four categories of increasing desirability: 1) Consider buying it if you happen to see a secondhand paperback, 2) Look for a secondhand paperback, 3) Buy new paperback when you see it, 4) Buy hardcover when it appears. C. J. Cherryh, Orson Scott Card, Gene Wolfe, and Ursula K. Le Guin have achieved that top status in science fiction, writers I buy in hardcover and whose work I will go back to every few years and re-read. In the mystery genre, Andrew Vachss, James Lee Burke, Carol O'Connell, Tony Hillerman, and Thomas Perry are there. With each of them, I own hardcover collector copies and paperback reading copies, and I have read all of their novels (with the exception of Perry's) more than once each. Westbrook is in Category One: not the bore who tells bad jokes that only he finds amusing; he's the supercilious one who sits silently outside the story circle and knows he would be much more amusing than the people we are laughing at, if he wanted to try.

For my taste, he is in that first category of readable writers, the least desirable, if you set aside the stuff not worth bothering with at all. I've read all of the first four – Warrior Circle, Ghost Dancer, Red Moon, and Ancient Enemy. This is a writer who's more recent efforts include the novelization of one of the stupidest movies ever made, The Mexican [Gun?]. The novelization is available used at Amazon, at this writing, for $.01. That's enough for me.


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Jean Hager

Hager, like Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, seems to write "Indian mysteries" because they are the flavor of the month. Currently she is cranking out "Iris" mysteries, apparently something to do with gardening.... She has some connection to the Indian subject matter; her tribe of choice is the Cherokee of Oklahoma, and Hager is an Oklahoma native. She has the distinction of owning two, not one, Indian series, the Mitchell Busheyhead novels and the Molly Bearpaw novels. One is tempted cynically to note that Hillerman started out with separate series for Chee and Leaphorn. Imitation and flattery: related?

I've read two Mitchell Busheyhead novels (Ghostland and Night Walker) and three Molly Bearpaw books Ravenmocker, The Redbird's Cry, and Seven Black Stones. The novels were Ok, but not memorable. As with so many of these writers, the problem boils down to poor plotting. The detective (Molly or Mitchell) figures things out long, sometimes far too long, after we do. In The Redbird's Cry effectively the entire novel pursues the obvious false lead of the "poisoned" dart, when an attentive mind would have dismissed it within a few pages of the murder.

Nevertheless, I have a slight preference for the Bearpaw novels, and I'll read the rest of them eventually, I think. Probably not any more of the Bushyhead series, which left me cold. Hager knows and respects her subject matter (as opposed to the Thurlos, who know what Navajos ought to be, and whose attitude toward Navajo culture is rather like that of a kid to a Disney cartoon). She has in common with Hillerman the ability to describe tribal beliefs and customs without belittling or coyly endorsing them. She also attempts, less successfully, to use them as red herrings for crimes that always end up having simple, "no spirit world" explanations. I will be reading The Spirit Caller soon. Most of Hager's Indian books are out of print, but they turn up in secondhand stores. If you are interested, they might be worth a look.

Molly Bearpaw Mitchell Bushyhead

Ravenmocker

The Redbird's Cry

Seven Black Stones

The Spirit Caller

The Grandfather Medicine

Night Walker

Ghostland

The Fire Carrier

Masked Dancers


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Peter Bowen

"Gabriel Du Pré" is one of the ugliest pieces of schtick going in the mystery publishing business. Here is one measure of the scam Bowen is running: His editors either are too obtuse to catch the potty-joke irony of Bowen's first two titles (Coyote Wind and Specimen Song), or they share Bowen's notion that they are clever. Bowen is a self-described "blood sport" writer for some men's magazine. His novels advocate vigilante action and espouse anti-environmental politics. The "validation" of his views is Du Pré's multi-generation Montana Métis heritage and an American Indian "shaman" (one grows weary of shamans) who shares Bowen's posse comitatus attitudes. The Métis are descendants of the French Canadian first settlers of the Northern Plains, a mestizo culture (both words mean "mixed [blood]") with French and Indian elements in their language, religion, and traditions. (This is different from the Cajuns, who are descendants of French settlers of Acadia with no defined Indian connections, though there was probably some intermarriage before they were forced out of Canada and relocated to Louisiana, and there has undoubtedly been some intermingling with the Indian inhabitants of Louisiana. More on Métis and mestizos?)

Bowen writes these novels in a sort of third-person limited point of view, as if some unidentified Métis who talks like Gabe were writing them. The language is a garbled hodge-podge English that is supposed to represent "Coyote French," the Michif (Métis) dialect. The effect is that everybody sounds like an illiterate retard when they "speak French:" "They good, them beer Minnesota," "You guys have trouble this." And the narrator writes like that just often enough to keep you busy. Some of the grammar is justifiable as representing French influences, but for the most part the language is nothing but an affectation that wears thin and, eventually, out.

I just finished Thunder Horse. The first few pages are classic Bowen. Du Pré is barreling down the road and slams on the brakes so he can jump out and shoot two coyotes who are doing no one any harm. He takes the corpses and crucifies them on a fence; that's what you do with dead coyotes, see. It's totally out of character, especially given that his Indian mentor (an old drunk who shares Bowen's politics but looks great compared to the weekend shaman con artist called "Benjamin Medicine Eagle") has a habit of changing into a coyote without warning. It's also totally gratuitous: the coyotes are not doing anything, just hangin' out, no worse than any other coyote wandering through the landscape, and killing them has absolutely nothing to do with the plot or anything else. One can just hear Bowen muttering over his typewriter, "So. Whaddayou think of that?"

Not much, Pete. You are a real asshole.

Brief Notes on the Rest of the Gabe Du Pré Novels


Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
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Rudolfo Anaya

I began assembling this piece with Anaya in the "Oddments" section reserved for writers who don't quite fit the genre or for some other reason are ducks in the chicken coop. Then I realized that if Peter Bowen's Métis detective gets to be "Indian", then it makes no sense to exclude Anaya's Chicano Sonny Baca. I've tried hard to like Anaya's mysteries. He is the grand master of Chicano literature (Bless Me, Ultima, Tortuga), lately a professor at the University of New Mexico, and seems like an all-around nice guy. He began writing mysteries set in Albuquerque a few years ago. Like Louis Owens and Linda Hogan, he is a writer who has not mastered (or accepted) the genre, and it shows.

About ten years ago, I read Alburquerque (Anaya insists on using the "correct" spelling of the city's name, adding the 'r' that Anglos dropped. Ok, whatever). It was his first attempt at the genre, and it was mildly interesting but, frankly, not very well written. Then he began the "Sonny Baca" series, which, after a hundred pages of Zia Summer, the first novel, I have now given up on.

The first twenty pages of Zia Summer "introduce" the hero with as much polish as a high school kid using his own idealization of himself as a model for the hero of "the great American novel." Sonny's women think he's just wonderful, especially in bed. He misses being a football star and a champion rodeo rider. On and on, one self-aggrandized résumé item after another, while he muses over his manly but very attractive navel. Then his cousin (who, many years ago, when he was an insecure teen and she an aspiring hooker of twenty-eight, screwed his brains out so he'd fit in with the experienced boys at school) gets murdered by a cult that steals blood. Sonny spends a couple of days being shocked and a couple more nosing around and threatening her husband, a corrupt politician (of course). He tells his girlfriend Rita what he's found, a connection to a Satanic cult compound nobody else seems to have noticed on the east side of the Sandias.

Sonny never tires of repeating stories about himself; he should have been named Gabby. A few chapters after giving us the story of Gloria's generous gift of sex, he retells the entire story (in case we missed any details?) to Rita, over a Rabelaisean Mexican dinner that he promptly throws up because he is nauseated by Rita's perfume, which reminds him of the lilac scent the blood suckers left behind at the scene of Gloria's death. And it's not supposed to be funny.

At this point, I had already interrupted the story to read a Judith Van Gieson novel set in Albuquerque (Ditch Rider, not bad); and then a Dennis Lehane novel (Gone, Baby, Gone), which was excellent, so I read his Darkness, Take My Hand, a classic not to be missed, and Prayers for Rain). I had another Lehane that I was curious about (A Drink Before the War), so I read it. Then I read Prickly Pete Bowen's Thunder Horse in one evening (more than it deserved). Then I tried a few more pages of Zia Summer: The bad guys on the other side of the Sandias live in a compound shaped like the Zia symbol on the state flag and led by an arch villain (the only "arch" villain I ever could stomach was Dirk Bogarde; sorry) called Raven. Unfortunately, the albino-blonde waitress in a Mexican restaurant I frequent has renamed herself "Raven" – no relation, and equally pretentious. So I read Thomas Perry's Shadow Woman again and enjoyed it just as much as the first two times. Then after another chapter of Sonny's woes, I picked up Walter Mosley's Gone Fishin' (Ok, but not my sort of thing). Then it was Mardi Oakley Medawar's The Ft. Larned Incident, which renewed my faith in her talent. Then it was Lehane's Sacred; I managed to read all of Lehane, in fact, without getting very far in Zia Summer. And I found myself looking forward to reading Jean Hager's The Spirit Caller, Michael McGarrity's third and fourth Kevin Kerney novels, and then a pile of August books by Burke, Coel, Thomas King, Jim Welch....

The three Sonny Baca novels are essentially one long (potentially endless) story that begins in Zia Summer with the murder of his cousin by "Raven", moves on, in Rio Grande Fall, to the murder of the main witness to that murder, also by "Raven", and a heinous plan (Raven again) to blow up nuclear waste and thus destroy the whole state. Then in Shaman Winter, Sonny is in a wheelchair recovering from injuries, but this is not a major inconvenience because the action consists of Sonny fighting dream battles with Raven (a la Carlos Castaneda and the Yaqui Way of Conning), who is trying to go back in time to undream one of Sonny's sixteenth-century ancestors so that Sonny will never have been born (just undreaming his dad apparently wouldn't do), because now Raven has decided to destroy the whole world along with New Mexico, and only Sonny Baca stands between him and his goal of ultimate power. Whoo-wee (pronounced either way). It's as if James Lee Burke's imagination were encompassed by Sly Stallone movies and Marvel Comics. Will there be a Sandia Spring? I sincerely hope not. If Anaya is remembered in one hundred years for Bless Me, Ultima, these books will be his equivalent to Melville's embarrassments, Mardi and Pierre.


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Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Yarbro is primarily a horror writer, and she has also dabbled in science fiction and New Age stuff. She is the author of a fun set of historical Gothics centered on the immortality of the vampire St. Germain. This series is a class act, but I wish she'd stay away from Indians. Knowing Wendy Rose and Robert Sayre, as she apparently does, does not qualify her to write about Indians. Her mystery novels, the Charlie Spotted Moon series (now all mercifully out of print), feature a Canadian Ojibwa detective in San Francisco. Charlie is about as "Indian" as Alec Baldwin in the right shade of shoe polish. He's a gourmet and "the medicine man" (not "a" medicine man) for his reservation in Canada. His "religious duties" require him to fly up to Iron River once a year....

A measure of Yarbro's commitment to authenticity is the use of a Pacific Coast Indian theme (totem poles) on the covers of these books about an Indian from Saskatchewan who lives in an upscale neighborhood of San Francisco. If you are curious, look for False Notes in your secondhand bookstores. Moon hates opera and Yarbro doesn't. Yarbro sets the dialog in that alternate universe, Cornwellia, ruled by Kay Scarpetta and her minions; if there are really people who talk like this, they are the most tedious, pretentious twits currently breeding. Memorable in a bad way, I'm afraid.


Micah Hackler

If the synopses of Hackler's books are any indication, they are opportunistic hack work not worth even looking into. The latest one features an authentic Navajo "emerald totem" that may have supernatural powers. Sigh.

Note: If you made it this far, you are through the worst of the worst. The next section isn't more dregs, but a collection of true oddities.


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