Chuck Greaves is the author of five novels, most recently Tom & Lucky, a WSJ “Best Books of 2015” selection and a finalist for the 2016 Harper Lee Prize. His novel Hard Twisted, an award winning work of historic fiction, is a long-time staff favorite.
Scott Graham is the author of nine fiction and non-fiction books, including the National Outdoor Book Award winning Extreme Kids and most recently Yosemite Fall, the fourth installment in the acclaimed National Park Mystery Series.
I have the pleasure in this month’s column of introducing three new books by local authors. While firmly placed in the Four Corners, all three books — by Rhenna St. Clair, Vicky Ramakka, and Erica Soon Olsen — wrestle with the universal themes of personal growth and finding one’s place in a challenging world.
St. Clair’s Getting New Mexico (Pace Press) is a humorous fish-out-of-water tale. In return for continuing to receive the financial handouts to which he has long been accustomed, lifelong moocher and dedicated laze-about Aaron Schuyler accepts his banishment to Santa Fe, New Mexico, by his wealthy Manhattanite mother. Aaron’s mother hopes her son will learn some self-reliance while he’s all alone in what she perceives as the distant, backward Southwest. Instead, Aaron meets a cast of quirky New Mexicans who teach him what it means to be a part of something larger than himself.
Anne Hillerman, author of the New York Times-bestselling Manuelito, Chee, and Leaphorn mysteries, declares Getting New Mexico “a delightful read from start to finish.” She says the book “moves along like a summer monsoon, building to a delightful climax.” My fellow Prose & Cons columnist Chuck Greaves, author of the recently released and highly praised novel Church of the Graveyard Saints, calls Getting New Mexico “a delightful tale of personal redemption set against the backdrop of northern New Mexico in which even the most jaded of newcomers might find magic behind adobe walls and love blooming amid the chamisa.”
Vicky Ramakka has captured the hardworking, blue-collar flavor of the northwestern New Mexico oil and gas fields in The Cactus Plot (Artemesia Publishing), a mystery appropriately subtitled Murder in the High Desert. The Cactus Plot features recentcollege- graduate Millie Whitehall, who leaves her lifelong home in New Jersey to take a job as regional botanist surveying endangered plant species for the Bureau of Land Management on the gas patch. Her work takes an unexpectedly deadly turn when autopsies show two seemingly unrelated deaths in the gas fields involve poison plants.
Ramakka, who lives in Aztec, has written a revealing tale of her home territory. Local environmental journalist Jonathan Thompson, author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster, says Ramakka’s mystery “does an excellent job of capturing the sense of place and people of northwestern New Mexico, along with the ins and outs of oil and gas development there.”
Erica Soon Olsen has followed up Recaptured and Other Stories, her acclaimed book of short stories set in the Four Corners region, with Girlmine (Bull City Press), which features six new stories born of Olsen’s fertile imagination. The stories are presented in a new style of short fiction release known as a micro-book.
High in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado, aspen trees come to life and boulders slide from place to place at will. In Olsen’s skillful hands, oddities such as these, in service to plots based loosely on Greek mythology, make for fun and thought-provoking reading.
Scott Graham is the National Outdoor Book Award-winning author of the National Park Mystery Series for Torrey House Press. The fifth book in the series, Arches Enemy, released in June, is available at Maria’s Bookshop in Durango and other area bookstores, and for order through scottfranklingraham.com.
In the interests of full disclosure, I first met Craig Johnson, author of the popular Sheriff Walt Longmire mysteries on which the equally-popular Netflix TV series is based, in 2008 when he was a lecturer and I was a student at the Tony Hillerman Writers Conference in Albuquerque. Anyone who’s ever met Craig knows what an engaging speaker he is, and so can imagine how effective he would be as a writing instructor (which is very.) He at the time had just published his fourth novel in the series – Another Man’s Moccasins, winner of a 2009 Spur Award from the Western Writers of America – and being impressed with his presentation, I proceeded to devour them all, losing myself in the fictitious latitudes of Absaroka County, Wyo., and its endearing cast of colorful characters. MORE...
Durangoan Dan Guiet gave his father, Jean Claude Guiet, a computer as a birthday present 25 years ago and asked Jean Claude to record his life story on it. Jean Claude began to type, but only after giving explicit instructions that no one was to read his writings until after his death.
Jean Claude died in 2013 at age 89. Only then did Dan become privy to his father’s story, one of the most sensational true tales ever to come out of World War II. MORE...
Thank goodness New York publishing, unlike Hollywood filmmaking, hasn’t entirely succumbed to the bland congruity of blockbuster titles, series retreads, and the same old, same old. Thank goodness a trip to your local bookstore can still yield daring works by diverse new voices; quirky and beautiful novels that defy convention and expand the boundaries of traditional storytelling. MORE...
Ever wondered what it takes to write bestselling novels that get turned into blockbuster Hollywood films and television series?
You can find out firsthand from local author Blake Crouch, who divides his time these days between his Durango hometown and Los Angeles, where he oversees his many ongoing film and television projects. MORE...
Philip Kerr died young – too young – in March of 2018. He was the author of more than 40 books, works of both fiction and nonfiction that include his Children of the Lamp middle-grade novels (as P. B. Kerr) and his popular Scott Mason thrillers. But it will be for his Bernie Gunther series of historical detective novels that Kerr, a Scotsman by birth, will forever be remembered, and lionized, as one of the greats of the crime fiction genre. MORE...
Swedish author Helene Tursten has gone against type over the last decade to create the highly praised Detective Inspector Embla Nystrom mysteries, including her latest installment in the series, Hunting Game, just released in the United States. MORE...
Denver author Peter Heller is a master storyteller, and that talent is on full display in The River, his third novel since bursting onto the world literary scene in 2012 with his New York Times-bestselling debut, The Dog Stars.
Jack and Wynn have been best buddies since their first meeting during freshman orientation at Dartmouth. Wynn is a Vermont farm boy, hulking but sensitive, as likely lost in a book as in the hardwood forests of his native New England. Jack is a Colorado ranch kid to whom, in Wynn’s telling, “sleeping under the stars, cooking on a fire, were as natural as breathing.” Both love the outdoors – flyfishing, camping, and especially whitewater – and it’s in pursuit of these passions that we first encounter the boys on a late August canoe trip down the Maskwa River in northern Canada." ... Read MORE
Once hailed as “America’s best novelist” by the Denver Post, Burke has the rugged good looks and vagabond past that invite comparisons to Jack London or Louis L’Amour. His books have been widely translated and adapted for both film and television, his protagonists portrayed by the likes of Alec Baldwin (Heaven’s Prisoners) and Tommy Lee Jones (In the Electric Mist). A Texas native turned Montana rancher, Burke’s series characters include Louisiana sheriff Dave Robicheaux (21 novels), Texas Ranger Hackberry Holland (three novels) and Texas attorney Billy Bob Holland (four novels). MORE....
When writers and editors speak of “voice” in the context of fiction, they refer to stylistic qualities of attitude and personality an author employs to engage the reader, as conveyed through tone and word choice. A unique and powerful voice – think of Mattie Ross recounting her childhood travails in Charles Portis’ True Grit – can turn an otherwise mundane story into a riveting page-turner. A dull or flaccid voice, in contrast, can render even an international spy thriller into a soporific slog.
That brings us to Jonathan Lethem’s latest installment in an authorial oeuvre that includes The Fortress of Solitude, his 2003 New York Times bestseller, and Motherless Brooklyn, winner of the 1999 National Book Critics Circle Award, because with The Feral Detective, Lethem’s 11th novel, he demonstrates just how effectively a potent voice can combine with an engaging story to produce masterful fiction. MORE...
Ambition is a commendable attribute in a debut novelist, as is the courage to take chances, stretching the boundaries of your chosen genre. Combine the two, and the potential for literary transcendence is manifest. So too, alas, is the potential for a very messy splatter.
Just when you thought you’d read all there was to read in the realm of crime fiction, along comes The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, Stuart Turton’s dizzying thought experiment in how to bring a fresh perspective – or multiple perspectives – to the venerable trope of the British locked-room murder mystery. MORE...
What’s the recipe for a great summer novel? Page-turning suspense, for starters, and a plucky heroine for whom to root. Lyrical writing is a bonus, as are reversed roles and upended expectations. Mix in a Cold War setting and radical politics, garnish with an exotic locale and a dash of sexual frisson, and the result is a frosty cocktail guaranteed to quench even the most parched reader’s thirst for a satisfying dog-days diversion. MORE...
“The evening when we first heard Sparsholt’s name seems the best place to start this little memoir.” That deceptively modest declaration begins The Sparsholt Affair, a novel of staggering depth and beauty from an author – Alan Hollinghurst – whom the The New Yorker’s Alexandra Schwartz describes as “not simply one of the best living English novelists but one of the best novelists working in English.” MORE...
Beau knows Louis L’Amour (Prose and Cons)
January 1, 2018
C. Joseph Greaves
“This book may drive you crazy.”
So begins Beau L’Amour’s Introduction to Louis L’Amour’s Lost Treasures, Vol. 1, a 500-page compendium of his late father’s unfinished manuscripts, treatments, and notes. But in this, Beau misleads. Truer to have written, “This book will make you a Louis L’Amour fan for life, and if you’re already a fan, it will give you unprecedented insight into the creative process that made him one of America’s most popular storytellers.”
Nativity (Prose and Cons)
November 1, 2017
It’s impossible to ignore the many parallels between Atwood’s chilling work of speculative fiction and Louise Erdich’s latest novel, Future Home of the Living God. Both feature environmental crisis, religious fundamentalism, and governmental intrusion into the reproductive process. But while Atwood’s book seems to have anticipated current events, Erdrich’s, in a sense, reflects them. As its forward explains, Living God was actually begun, and then shelved, in 2002, only to be exhumed and completed in January of 2017. As such, it functions both as crystal ball and looking glass. MORE....
A fine Navajoland whodunnit (Prose and Cons)
October 9, 2017
Despite confronting the bodies of four murdered young people at the start of Katayoun Medhat’s The Quality of Mercy, readers know they’re in for an enjoyable — if dark — ride by the end of the first chapter of Medhat’s debut, the latest entrant in the Navajoland mystery niche pioneered by Tony Hillerman.
The Quality of Mercy introduces cynical protagonist K, a police officer in the remote Southwest town of Milagro, an obvious stand-in for Cortez, Colo., near the sprawling Navajo Reservation. K, short for Franz Kafka, has landed in Milagro because of the opportunity it provides him to disappear from the wider world. K’s droll observations — of his fellow police officers, local citizens, and life in general — are as cutting as they are funny. MORE...
Gothic ramblings (Prose and Cons)
September 6, 2017
Race, like a flaming cross at a Klan rally, stands at the center of Sing, Unburied, Sing, casting shadows on all that transpires. The novel, Jesmyn Ward’s third and the first since her National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones, depicts a tumultuous week in the lives of three generations of the River family, proud but impoverished denizens of bayou Mississippi.
Pop, the family patriarch, is haunted by memories of his juvenile incarceration at Parchman Farm – the Mississippi State Penitentiary – the brutality of which we glimpse in lurid flashbacks. Mam, bedridden with cancer, is a Santera whose gift of clairvoyance has passed to her daughter Leonie even if her healing arts and empathetic wisdom have not. As for Leonie, her indifference to motherhood contrasts with her dedication to methamphetamine, leaving it to her son Jojo, wise beyond his 13 years, to care for his infant sister Kayla. MORE...
Rose invents a new genre with ‘Thief’ (Prose and Cons)
August 19, 2017
Augustus Rose may have invented a new genre with his debut novel, The Readymade Thief, released Aug. 1 by Viking Press.
Let’s call Rose’s creation a Young Adult novel for adults; rather than a YA novel, Rose has written a YAA novel. In The Readymade Thief, Rose adopts many of the norms of a novel aimed at teenage readers to tell a thought-provoking coming-of-age tale layered with adult themes.
Like the protagonists in many YA stories, the heroine of The Readymade Thief is young, whip-smart, abandoned by family, and blackballed by society. It turns out — and nearly goes without saying — that 17-year-old Lee also has been pre-selected by mysterious forces for bigger things than she ever could have imagined for herself. MORE...
Worth the weight (Prose and Cons)
July 12, 2017
There are many authors whose virtuosity inspires me to be a better writer. There are but a few, however, whose talent is so prodigious, so dispiritingly outsized, as to make me want to throw up my hands and quit writing altogether.
Arundhati Roy is one of those few. Roy exploded onto the world literary scene with her debut novel The God of Small Things, a voluptuous coming-ofage saga that explores the legacies of colonialism, sexism, and governmental oppression in modern-day India. Small Things won the Booker Prize in 1997, has been translated into more than forty languages, and provided the platform from which Roy has since established herself as one of India’s most outspoken and controversial social critics – activities that had, alas, kept her from undertaking a second novel.
Until now. MORE....