Copyright © 1999 Henrietta W. Hay
Mysteries of The West
January 29, 1999
Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it snow. The weather this month has been
frightful, but several great new mystery novels have made it a lot
easier to live with. And they all are set in our own back yard - what I
call western mysteries.
Usually I wait for the library copy of the newest book by my favorite
authors, but when I hear that Denver writer Marne Davis Kellogg has a
new one, I'm willing to plunk down hard cash to get it right now. Of
all the female mystery characters that I know, be they young,
glamorous, tough, or whatever, the one I'd most like to be is Kellogg's
Lilly Bennett. Lilly is nearly 50, sophisticated, smart, beautiful,
lives on a 200,000 acre ranch in Wyoming -- where a 100 acre spread is
called a yard. Her family has owned the ranch for five generations,
and uses the family helicopter to go back and forth from the ranch to
Roundup (I recognize a good bit of Denver in Roundup). And she is
equally at home on horseback or at the Opera in an Armani. How you
going to beat that? Oh yes, she is a debutante turned U. S. Marshal.
In "Nothing but Gossip" Lilly is about to marry Richard, a Manhattan
born banker who moved west to run the Roundup Opera Company. The week
before the wedding turns out to be full of murder, greed mayhem and
Russians. Lilly solves the mystery, of course, but did she solve it fast
enough to get to the wedding on time? Kelly Milner Halls in reviewing
this book for the Post, says, "'Nothing But Gossip' endorses the charm
and power of feminine diversity. It playfully celebrates robust,
spirited women and the men smart enough to love them."
Another western writer is Nancy Pickard. She is carrying on the series
started by the late Virginia Rich featuring Eugenia Potter, a doting
sixtyish (or maybe seventyish) grandmother, a good cook and a competent
rancher. Pickard's latest, "The Blue Corn Murders" is set in the
Medicine Wheel archaeological camp near Mesa Verde. Genia finds shards
of what she suspects to be ancient pottery on her Tucson ranch and wants
to learn more about native Americans. So she drives north and joins the
"Women's Hike Into History" at the camp in Colorado. A group of women
of varying ages and backgrounds spend a week exploring the ancient ruins
in the far corner of Colorado. Genia says that, "You might as well step
out boldly and meet it (age) face-on, instead of allowing it to sneak up
behind you and whack you over the head."
The opening ritual has the women sitting in a circle answering the
question, "Why have the Ancient People called you here?" Solving
several murders and finding 16 misplaced teenagers may be one reason.
In any case, they create a complex and entertaining plot, which includes
some luscious recipes.
A really outstanding writer of native American mysteries is Margaret
Coel. Her latest is "The Story Teller." Her heroine is Vicky Holden,
an Arapaho who has returned to her native Wind River Reservation in
Wyoming as an attorney. The Native American Graves Protection &
Repatriation act allows tribes to reclaim some of their artifacts from
museums and Grandfather, one of the elders of the tribe, asks her to
retrieve a book which has vanished from the Denver Museum of the West.
Vicky uncovers murder before recovering the book, as she works closely
with her friend and confidante, Father John O'Malley, a pastor on the
All of Coel's books are full of Indian lore and she gives us carefully
researched stories which include the law, ethics and culture of the
Arapaho people. She does for the Arapaho some of the same things Tony
Hillerman does for the Navajo. I wonder whether we could get Vicky
Holden and Jim Chee together some time.
Let's face it. We westerners have a distinctive view on life, and the
mystery writers definitely reflect it. Let it snow some more. I
still haven't finished Marianne Wesson's "Render Up the Body."