Winners, Santa Fe Reporter Writing Contest

I don’t usually post twice in one week, but the Santa Fe Reporter published the winners in its annual writing contest today. I’m honored to be in some excellent company among the winners.

A New Mexico Mystery Review: The Easter Egg Murder

front cover Easter Egg

The best analogy I can think of for this book is a Rubik’s Cube. As I read it, I knew all the pieces of the puzzle could fit together, but I never did figure out how until the end. It’s the kind of mystery that engages the mind, with intricately constructed interlocking pieces and multiple layers of relationships, motives and history. It has a whodunit within a whodunit, as the team of amateur sleuths, police and FBI in 2000 work out who is behind the unsolved “Easter Egg murder” from 1950, as well as a murder and an attempted murder in their own time. In spite of this complexity there are no loose ends, no holes, and even its surprise ending is set up so the closure comes from the prior events, not out of the blue.

The cascade of events in this story is triggered when Senator Philip Lawrence starts writing two books—his memoir of his life in politics, and a book about a fifty-year-old murder that took place in the small New Mexico town of Los Huevos on Easter Sunday. The second book becomes more important to him than the first, and when word gets out that he’s working on it, the project stirs up some serious trouble. The retired senator’s editors find themselves in the middle of that trouble. I liked the way the two editors’ involvement in solving a mystery was handled. The amateurs don’t outsmart the professionals, but cooperate and communicate with them in a realistic way, as well as occasionally striking out on their own.

The characters are deft sketches, the pace brisk. The pieces of the puzzle keep moving. For those who like their books spare and fast, this will fit the bill. The tension is seldom at a life-threatening level, but it builds steadily to that point. There isn’t a dull moment or a single extra word that could have been cut.

I actually would have liked a few more words. The historical part of the mystery was so interesting I wanted to explore that time and place in more depth. I had a good sense of Harrie—one of the editors who is the primary point of view character—as a whole person, but I didn’t get to know the other major players as well as I would have liked. Almost like a radio play, a good portion of the story is told in dialog. I’m never in a hurry to have a good book end and I wouldn’t have minded if this slender 212 page novel had a little more meat on its bones.


Next week I’ll have an interview with the author, in which she shares some fascinating background on this book.

Reflections on Mythologies

I’m in the middle of rereading a book I’ve owned for so long that it’s a $3.95 trade paperback. In Mythologies, W.B. Yeats collected the stories of Irish country people who believed in ghosts, visitations from the devil, strange spirit animals in the woods, and of course, those incomprehensible Others, the faeries. The convictions of those who have seen such apparitions seem profoundly unlike the modern mind, and yet Yeats collected these tales in 1902. Not that long ago. Just a few generations.

The mythical way of seeing the world is still alive.

Many American Indian tribes had—and in some cases still have—relationships with small, magical people. In James D. Doss’s Charlie Moon mystery series, shaman Daisy Perika communicates often with the Utes’ little man, the pitukupf. At an Art Hop in Truth or Consequences back in August I struck up a conversation with an Indian woman—I’ve forgotten her tribe—who was a strong believer in the Little People. She was pleased to meet someone who else knew about them.

I was introduced to them a number of years ago when I had a student who was Mohegan from Connecticut. She gave me a book, Medicine Trails, about her great aunt, Gladys Tantaquidgeon, a tribal leader and educator and a keeper of Mohegan traditions, including the relationship with the Makiawisug, the Little People. I was so intrigued, I located a beautifully illustrated children’s book about them, Makiawisug: The Gift of the Little People. In Mohegan beliefs, the health of the earth is interdependent with the care and wellbeing of the Makiawisug. Respect for them is one with respect for the mother earth.

North American Little People are more benevolent than the Irish faeries, who tend to cause mischief, or steal people away to their world. They can be beautiful, yet sometimes frightening. When they are helpful, it’s as puzzling as when they’re harmful. In Yeats’s book, woman of the faeries is described as having a face as calm as that of an animal. It’s a reminder of their otherness. They are neither good nor evil, and all the more mysterious because if it. Their motives are inscrutable, and they ask mortals not to look too closely or inquire too much. I love his description of their world as the dim kingdom.

I was stretching after a run a few days ago and the autumn wind and leaves and water seemed to be breathing with a layer of lives unseen. The idea of another world interwoven with ours, sometimes visible, sometimes not, is somehow most compelling at this time of year, when the days grow short and dreams grow long.

A friend who has no religious beliefs at all told me that when she was a child, she saw a fairy. She doesn’t say she imagined it, or thought she saw it, but says—with conviction— that she did.

Art that Inspired Me

The Bull

I can’t take full credit for the images of Niall Kerrigan’s sculptures. If you’ve read Shaman’s Blues you know the art I’m talking about—rusted metal, parts of old tools and machines recycled into creatures or people. Take a look at the art that inspired the art in my book. Sculptor Alexandra Soler’s work amazed me when I encountered it in person. Her animals aren’t just inventive, but practically alive. They seem to be filled with some inner vitality, ready to move, supported by anatomically believable muscles and bones—and yet they are made from recycled metal scraps. She finds parts that are shaped like the parts of the animals and reuses them with perfect fits. I have no idea how long it takes her to create these sculptures, but even finding the right materials must be challenging, not to mention the process of building them. My favorite is the bull made from Toro lawnmower parts. He is every inch the bull. I wish you could stand face to face with him. It makes you feel as if he’s making a turn to charge you.

See more of her work on Art by Alex. The horse made of horseshoes is startlingly real. The chicken made me smile.