I’ve been reading this summer and wanted to share some great books with you!
The Blessing Way is book #1 of the famous Leaphorn and Chee series by Tony Hillerman. This series has been in my TBR (To Be Read) pile for years and I’m happy to say that I finally got around to it! I knew that it would be good because everyone I’ve talked to has loved these books. Even knowing that, I was pleasantly surprised. Leaphorn is interesting and has an inherent understand about people and what makes them tick. His internal dialogue also teaches the reader about his heritage and culture. I honestly found that aspect of the story to be entertaining and enlightening. It was also full of suspenseful action. There’s a seen where a character is stalked by something or someone in the night. That scene was the best in the book! It was chilling and creepy. I loved it. *happy chills*
I’m currently reading book #2, Dance Hall of The Dead and it’s just as creepy and suspenseful.
Good Reads description of The Blessing Way: Homicide is always an abomination, but there is something exceptionally disturbing about the victim discovered in a high lonely place, a corpse with a mouth full of sand, abandoned at a crime scene seemingly devoid of tracks or useful clues. Though it goes against his better judgment, Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn cannot help but suspect the hand of a supernatural killer. There is palpable evil in the air, and Leaphorn’s pursuit of a Wolf-Witch is leading him where even the bravest men fear, on a chilling trail that winds perilously between mysticism and murder.
The second book that I recommend is The Far Empty by J. Todd Scott. It’s also the first in a series, the Chris Cherry series. While it also has a landscape that’s remote, isolated, and vast, this book is quite different. The story is told in alternating chapters from different characters. It took me a bit to get the characters straight, but once I did that, it took off. Scott does an excellent job of capturing the feel of the west Texas landscape and its people, especially bullies in small towns. As most good books, there’s a showdown of sorts and my nerves were raw, waiting to see what happens. It’s not a small book but you’ll be turning pages.
Good Reads description: Seventeen-year-old Caleb Ross is adrift in the wake of the sudden disappearance of his mother more than a year ago, and is struggling to find his way out of the small Texas border town of Murfee. Chris Cherry is a newly minted sheriff’s deputy, a high school football hero who has reluctantly returned to his hometown. When skeletal remains are discovered in the surrounding badlands, the two are inexorably drawn together as their efforts to uncover Murfee’s darkest secrets lead them to the same terrifying suspect: Caleb’s father and Chris’s boss, the charismatic and feared Sheriff Standford “Judge” Ross. Dark, elegiac, and violent, The Far Empty is a modern Western, a story of loss and escape set along the sharp edge of the Texas border. Told by a longtime federal agent who knows the region, it’s a debut novel you won’t soon forget.
Recommendation #3 is South California Purples by Baron R. Birtcher. It’s set in 1973 and starts out with an easy feel of a typical traditional Western. Then rancher Ty Dawson gets conscripted into helping the county’s law enforcement, who seems to have no interest in dealing with the growing problem. When time after time Dawson doesn’t get help from the local cops, Dawson decides to handle matters as he sees fit. If you’re looking for a mix of hard-boiled with a Western, this book fits the bill. Biker gangs vs. cowboys. You know it’s full of action. *trigger warning- it does deal with rape*
From Good Reads: Cattle rancher Ty Dawson, a complex man tormented by elements of his own past, is involuntarily conscripted to assist local law enforcement when a herd of wild mustangs is rounded up and corralled in anticipation of a government auction, igniting the passions of political activist Teresa Pineu, who threatens to fan the flames of an uprising that grows rapidly out of control.
As the past collides with the present, and hostility escalates into brutality and bloodshed, Ty is drawn into a complex web of predatory alliances and corruption where he must choose to stand and fight, or watch as the last remnants of the American West are consumed in a lawless conflagration of avarice and cruelty.
I hope this helps you find some new books. And remember, whenever possible, please try to purchase your books from local, independent bookstores. Thank you!
We’re always searching for a new adventure, a new love. Have you ever pulled a book from the shelf, glance at the back cover, then (with hope in your heart) the first page, and then pushed the book back on the shelf, sure this one won’t do? I have, so many times. Same drill at the library. We usually know from page one (or at most page two) if we’re going to like a new author. If we don’t like the setting, the protagonist, the voice, forget it. But if we do, if we give that book a chance and like it, we look for a series. Bonus points if we find a new series we like! A series is efficient: we already know the protagonist, the repeating characters, many details of the setting. We plunge straight into the story.
Yet sometimes—even when I really like an author’s book—they run together. I may find them exciting, may remember specific scenes, may like the ending. But often a week after I finish a book, even one in a series with a protagonist who enchants me, I can’t quite remember who died. Now that’s embarrassing. As a murder mystery reader, shouldn’t I remember the victim?
If the victim, stuck there on the page, could talk back, maybe he or she would say, “C’mon, reader, give me a break! Don’t you remember how my body was pulled from the [canal] [truck] [hidden grave]? Don’t you remember how hard I was to find? Don’t you remember how excited the [police team] [sleuth] was to figure out who killed me? Can’t you remember me for at least three minutes? I mean, I’m the one your beloved protagonist investigated! I’m the whole point of the book!” And then in a more querulous tone, “Aren’t I?”
Maybe not. We get caught up in the badinage between DI Dalziel and his sidekick Pascoe. They go off to a pub and suddenly we find we’ve opened the refrigerator. We want to be there with them, sitting at that table near the dart board, sipping beer. Or our protagonist is reviewing the grisly evidence while listening to Madame Butterfly, and we find ourselves humming the first phrase of the aria (the only one we know). Maybe we’re really more interested in a favorite protagonist than in the victim. Sorry, Victim. The Protagonist will be in the next book––but you won’t.
On the other hand, now and then, there’s a death that sticks. One that even haunts me, after the denouement, after the explanation, after I finish saying “aha, I spotted that,” or “Hmm, very tricksy.” After all the figuring-out, occasionally I’m still thinking about the victim.
I started wondering about the ones who stick this week when I read two mysteries from Donna Leon, who just published her 30th book, Transient Desires. The title puns on what Donna Leon terms the “Nigerian Mafia” which she describes as smuggling young African women into Italy, promising them jobs which will let them send needed money home to their families, but instead enslaving them as sex workers or—occasionally—taking their transport money while throwing them into the Mediterranean to drown. In Transient Desires, Leon introduces us first to a young woman who survived the sea crossing but is being driven mad by her enslavement. Then we meet a naïve young Venetian man, desperate to keep a job with his boat-owning uncle which allows him to support his mother. The young man is slowly being destroyed by what his uncle forces him to do. These two portraits stick in my mind.
I also read Leon’s 22d book, The Golden Egg, where her protagonist, Venetian Inspector Guido Brunetti, must determine whether a young deaf man committed suicide by swallowing his mother’s tranquilizers, or was murdered. Which? Brunetti is stunned that the Serene Republic of Venice, which keeps tab of virtually every aspect of every inhabitant’s life, has no record of this young man. He’s unaccounted for: no school, no paying job, nothing. Brunetti learns he toiled his life away ironing clothes in a laundry, unpaid, speaking to no one, with no one speaking to him. He was never taught sign language, never taught how to interact with people. He lived in Venice where people know and speak to their neighbors and shopkeepers…but no one spoke to him. Brunetti doggedly unearths the peculiar cruelty of the people who kept him alive but didn’t teach him to live…parents who never talked to him, never taught him, never allowed anyone to reach out to him. Even worse, if worse is possible, Brunetti discovers the boy had a rare artistic talent—appreciated only by the boy’s doctor—that the boy never knew was worthy of recognition. Donna Leon’s description of one of the boy’s drawings, one the doctor has on his wall, brings home to the reader the two-fold tragedy: that the boy never knew his creations were beautiful, and that the world was deprived of knowing the human being who created such beauty. He was trapped. And he died without ever escaping. That’s a victim I cannot forget.
What aboutThe Nine Tailors(1934), by Dorothy Sayers?. This classic tale, often called her best, has all the charming hallmarks of a carefully constructed village-and-vicar English mystery, including the peculiarly English tradition of bell-ringing. We’ve got it all here: stolen jewels, a letter written in cipher, and an unidentified male body with no hands. The setting: the fens of East Anglia, with drainage ditches, locks, and ever-shifting floodwaters, and the contrasting grandeur of the ancient fen churches whose spires, with their enormous bells, mark the landscape. On New Year’s Eve, with the great influenza raging, Lord Peter Wimsey and his valet Bunter wreck the car and become lost in a snowstorm. They’re rescued by the vicar of Fenchurch St. Paul, who proudly announces that his bell-ringers are going to ring in the New Year with “no less than fifteen thousand, eight hundred and forty Kent Treble Bob Majors”—nine hours of bell-ringing. When one ringer, Will Thoday, is struck down by influenza, the vicar begs Wimsey to take his place. Wimsey later finds a recently buried man with no hands. As to why the victim has no hands, and how he was killed—is it a spoiler to emphasize, reader, that you do not want to be tied up, unable to escape, in a bell-chamber just above those enormous thousand-year-old bells while they ring unceasingly for nine hours? That victim’s death has stayed with me. But also, the circumstances which led to in his entrapment in the bell tower resulted in such grief for three characters that their lives are changed forever. That stayed with me too. No happy Sayers-esque denouement here. Instead, characters are condemned to remember. As to the title, the Nine Tailors are the nine strokes of the tenor bell—three, three, and three more—rung to mark a death in the parish.
Fans of Tony Hillerman will remember The Wailing Wind, where NavajoDetective Joe Leaphorn is hired by Wiley Denton, a wealthy older man recently released from prison for shooting a man named McKay, who had promised Denton a map to a fabled gold mine. Denton wants Leaphorn to find out what happened years ago at Halloween to his beloved young wife, Linda. The convoluted plot takes the reader through numerous twists and turns, but the gold mine convolutions aren’t what I remember. Instead I remember that McKay, all those years ago, drugged Linda and left her in a locked bunker (one of hundreds of identical bunkers in an untravelled area on the vast grounds of Fort Wingate), hoping to use her as leverage to get the deal he wanted from Denton. Denton shot McKay, not knowing that McKay had hidden Linda. So she died, slowly mummified, in a bunker in the Arizona desert. Now that’s one that sticks with me.
I’ve been wondering why I found these particular victims so hard to forget. You’ll have noticed that all were trapped.Transient Desires involves economic entrapment—slavery, really. Both the young Nigerian and the young Venetian have no economic hope, no way to escape doing what they hate. The Golden Egg reveals a young man cruelly trapped by isolation, deprived of human communication, deprived of any way to express an enormous talent. In Nine Tailors and The Wailing Wind, the victim’s death by physical entrapment creates another trap: those involved are trapped by their memories.
I wonder if the rank injustice that Leon depicts is part of the staying power of Transient Desires and The Golden Egg. Particularly in The Golden Egg, Brunetti feels helpless, and we share his frustration, his horror, really, at the young man’s death, and at the society that allowed it to happen. To that extent I’m still identifying with Brunetti, not the victim.
I’ve hidden my murder victims in enclosed spaces. Ghost Cave.
Maybe we identify more with the victim when reading about a death caused by physical entrapment, whether the victim’s tied up in a bell-tower or locked in an isolated bunker, where no one can hear the call for help (the bells are too loud, or the bunker too soundproof). Doesn’t that reverberate with all of us? We’re generally confident we could escape from most situations, could chew off the ropes on our wrist, pick the lock, find a secret passage, get a message to our rescuers. Fool the witch and chop down the beanstalk. But what if there’s no one to hear? No one to help? No way to get out? End of story. Not comfortable. Awfully memorable. Awfully.
Helen Currie Foster is the author of the Alice MacDonald Greer mystery series. Her latest novel is Ghost Cat. Read more about her here.
I have a confession to make. I love westerns, all kinds of westerns. I like characters with a sense of independence, who live life by their own rules. I like studying that era of our history. It has everything you could want that makes a great story: evil-doers, heroes, the clash of cultures (Native American/European, city/country, poor/rich), people trying to make their lives better, people trying to hold on to their heritage. You name it.
I also like modern westerns. They still hold the same sense of character and grit as the older ones.
So it’s no great surprise that like western mysteries. I thought I’d delve into that subgenre and look for books to add to my TBR (To Be Read) shelf and take you along with me.
Craig and me eating BBQ with friends.
Those of you who know me know that I’m a fan of Craig Johnson and the Longmire series. The way he captures the essence of the west and the clash of cultures while respecting both sides is masterful. The books are full of drama, humor, and history. The characters grow deeper by each book. (As they should.)
At the moment I’ve only read the first three books in the series. I have a lot of reading to do! But I’ve watched all of the TV episodes. If you haven’t seen them, check them out on Netflix. It’s one of my favorite shows. All of the actors are excellent at their jobs and they’re nice in real life. And Craig Johnson is as nice as could be too.
Manning Wolfe, me, and Billy Kring. We like Mexican food!
Most of his Hunter Kincaid series takes place in Texas and along the Mexican border since Hunter is a border patrol agent. I’ve read the first one, Quick, and let me tell you, it’s good! It’s a page-turner. I will say it’s not for the squeamish, but Billy tells me (since he’s a friend of mine) that the others aren’t quite so graphic. But it didn’t bother me since I kind of expected that, considering the topic.
I think it’s interesting that Billy’s a big cowboy (former border patrol and anti-terrorism expert) and the Kincaid books are told from a woman’s perspective. And he writes it well!
Go check out his website and book list. It’s impressive! He also writes other genres. There’s something for everyone. http://www.billykring.com
And just so you don’t think I only read books written by big burly cowboys, (Yes, I’m partial to them) I want to tell you about J.A. Jance. She has a special place in my mystery reader/writer heart. She is one of the writers who inspired me to pick up a pen and write. Her Joanna Brady series is very good. It takes place in Arizona and Joanna is a sheriff in a small border town. She’s a full and complex character that deals with all sorts of horrors and problems, big and small.
Jance also writes a Detective Beaumont series, some of which I’ve read and it’s very good too. http://www.jajance.com
Those are my favorties, but I wanted to know more. So whenever I have a question about mysteries, I turn to my friends. And the person I know who’s the most knowledgeable is Scott Montgomery, mystery coordinator at Book People in Austin. He pointed me to Tony Hillerman and Peter Bowen.
**Scott gave me an extra tidbit of info. “The first hardboiled detective novel, Hammett’s Red Harvest, is about a detective coming into a corrupt Montana mining town and playing both evil interests off one another like A Fistful Of Dollars (inspired by Yojimbo, which was inspired by Red Harvest)”
So there you go.
You can’t talk about this genre without talking about Tony Hillerman. He’s famous for his Navajo Tribal Police Series. The series starts with The Blessing Way (1970) and goes to the 18th one, The Shape Shifter (2006). The series features Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, Navajo police officers who solve mysteries with their knowledge of the people and knowledge of the area. The two first work together in the seventh novel in the series, Skinwalkers. (I can’t wait to read some of these!)
Hillerman was such an accomplished writer that his books have won numerous awards and he’s considered to be one New Mexico’s foremost novelists. TH is no longer alive, but his daughter, Anne, has continued his legacy. http://www.annehillerman.com
Bowen lives in Montana and is known for his Yellowstone Kelly historical novels (fictionalized stories based on a real person) and the Gabriel Du Pré mysteries are set in modern Montana. All of his books sound rich with characters and place. You can find out more at his website: http://peterbowenmt.com.
Since I’m talking about Westerns, I have to tell you about Dusty Richards. He doesn’t write mysteries but he writes darn good westerns. How did I come to discover him? My husband was a co-op engineer and Dusty serves on the board of his electric co-op. They were both attending a conference and got to talking. My husband told him about me and Dusty said, “Hold on a moment.” He went up to his room and came back with a signed copy of his book to me to wish me well in my writing endeavors.
Since then my husband has read many of his books and said they are great. (And this is coming from a guy who compares EVERY book to Louis L’Amour.)
Since then I’ve followed Dusty on social media and I see that one of his books is being made into a movie. Yay! I like it when good things happen for good people.
He also has a literary quarterly that’s always looking for western stories, modern or historical. If you’re interested in submitting, the website is: http://saddlebagdispatches.com
Well, thanks for moseying along with me on this trail. Since I’m partial to this genre, it’s no surprise that I’ve written some Western short stories (Suspense and Horror) and the novel I’m working on (Suspense) is set in West Texas. I hope to make it the first in a series, or two.
So happy trails and vio con Dios! Hasta luego!
At our Double Mountain ranch where we used to live.