A New Mexico Mystery Review: The Treasure of Victoria Peak

This true story would make a great movie, featuring a hidden treasure and a huge cast of characters trying to get hold of it despite the claim of the stubborn widow of the original finder, Doc Noss.

Doc, a Cheyenne foot doctor of no known medical credentials, had an office in what was then Hot Springs, now Truth or Consequences. He was reputed to be skilled in treating foot ailments, whether or not he was real doctor. Once he found treasure while out deer hunting, his life changed, and not for the better. He had a lot to worry about—more gold and ancient Spanish artifacts than he could remove from the cavern in Victorio Peak. (The mountain is named after Victorio, the Apache war chief. I’m not sure how or why Koury or perhaps his publisher renamed it Victoria.)

The book chronicles Doc Noss’s adventures, his sudden and dramatic death, court case after court case, subsequent treasure searches, and Ova Noss’s years of fighting to retain her right to the treasure and get permission to dig it up. Once the peak was made part of the White Sands Missile Range, Mrs. Noss had to go up against everyone from the U.S. military and F. Lee Bailey to the woman who claimed to be her late husband’s other widow.

Attorney for Mrs. Noss Phil H. Koury has a penchant for detail. As you might expect, he tells his story with an emphasis on the legal battles, but it’s never dull or confusing, and he has a humorous flair. He recounts the treasure hunt scenes he witnessed with apt observations of character and settings. The process of solving this mystery during a time when communication was slower increases the suspense. I rooted for Mrs. Noss all the way. Since this is a true story, the plot doesn’t necessarily turn the way a work of fiction would, but that makes it no less compelling.

 

Sparky’s is Real

In my endnotes for my books, I explain few details about settings and research. At the end of Soul Loss, I mention that the other businesses in the story are fictitious, but Sparky’s in Hatch, New Mexico is real. I got an e-mail from a reader who found that fact—quite understandably—hard to believe. Not that she thought I was lying. She was simply marveling that such a place could exist.

For those who have had a similar reaction, or have not yet read the book, here’s an update on that wonderful place from my latest visit to Sparky’s:

In the middle of a 100 degree Sunday afternoon, in a dance hall that serves no alcohol, the Desperadoes played Western swing while couples two-stepped on a dance floor framed by walls full of antique advertising signs and shelves and glass cases crammed with old piggy banks, cookie jars, radios and little robots. High on one wall, a Rajah Motor oil neon sign glowed between a couple of other neon antiques and a mounted deer head with a big hot pink butterfly perched over its right ear. An old metal diving helmet was displayed at the other end of the neon row. The bas-relief of the skeletal rider on a skeletal horse that I mention in the Sparky’s scene in Chapter Two is still there, but there’s always something new or rearranged.

Sparky’s is a living organism of sorts. The interior has expanded to include a third room between the restaurant counter area and the dance hall, and the décor there is Sparky’s best. The skeletons who used to occupy the passage to the restrooms are once again in somewhat piratical garb, and have joined a tableau over the door of the new room along with an old wooden jukebox and a collection of Catrinas, the elegantly clad skeleton ladies of the Day of the Dead.512px-Catrinas_2

You will never run out of “whoa, I didn’t see that!” discoveries at Sparky’s. The giant advertising statues outside have new companions. On top of a monster KFC cup, a green chile wearing lipstick and a bridal veil holds hands with red chile in a top hat as they beam at each other in nuptial devotion—a match made in Hatch. Sparky the robot, his fountain espresso cup ever-flowing, gets new decoration. Sunday he was wearing goggles and some red-white-and-blue stars. Inside, more musicians have autographed the wall behind the stage, where the one thing that never changes is the sign that says, “Do one thing every day that makes you happy.” If you’ve set foot in Sparky’s, you have already done that.

Need pictures? Check out Sparky’s Facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sparkys-BBQ-and-Espresso/74823382942?sk=timeline

Good food and good music in the strangest-best place for both.

*****

Catrina images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons