Monday, November 14, 2011


I love geography and this compelling mystery by Michael McGarrity is full of geography. The plot  hinges on secrets held within the White Sands missile range and Tularosa Basin, which the redoubtable hero, Kevin Kerney, explores on horseback with his love interest, Army investigator Sara Bannon.

There are mountains, crevices, escarpments, gullies, petroglyphs, and caves with hidden treasure. There is heat and cold, and sunsets and sunrises. You are very close to nature in New Mexico and McGarrity doesn't let you forget it for a minute.

And then there is the Rio Grande, that fateful river, and the divided city of El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico, which also plays a role in this tale of murder, smuggling, and lost artifacts. McGarrity, a former policeman, moves easily in and out of the law enforcement community (not surprisingly his police officers are largely sympathetic). Added to the mix in this story is the U.S. Army, with its own hierarchy and its own set of priorities. The friction between civilian and military authority, the permeability of a secret, secure location that comprises thousands of square miles, and the added frisson of gold coins and precious artifacts from another century all make this an engaging story.

Kevin Kerney (KK to McGarity's MM, Irish of course) is the classic loner ex-cop. Not only is he divorced he is bitterly estranged from his former partner, whose malfeasance left him disabled with a trick knee and a nasty car in his belly. And yet, when that former partner's son, Kerney's godson, goes missing from the Army base is classified AWOL, all is forgiven and Kerney pledges to track him down.

The narrative never flags though it is not always fast-paced. The beautiful descriptions of New Mexico punctuate the story and give it a terrific sense of place. But the plot itself involves people that are part of the geography, too. Sammy Yazzi, the native American soldier who goes missing; Eddie Tiapa, the Army investigator who has unsuspected talents as an undercover agent in Juarez; and other assorted archaeologists, gamekeepers and Army personnel. One blurb cites Dick Francis as a reference, and Kerney indeed undergoes the masochistic pummeling that characterizes Francis's jockey heroes.

McGarrity seems equally at home in Kerney's pickup truck, on horseback dodging flash floods and ambushes, and in the seedy drug and smuggling underworld of Juarez. The love story is adult and anything but maudlin. The supporting cast, both friends and foes, is engaging. It's just a really good book.

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