Book Reviews

Review Rating

With the October 2004 review, we began rating the books on the basis of one to four trowels; 
one trowel= don’t bother, to four trowels= run right out to your local book store and buy the hard cover!

Back to all reviews

The Visitant by Kathleen O’Neal Gear; W. Michael Gear

Reviewed on: December 1, 2021


Tor Books:  New York City
1999 (PB)

This is the first in the three-volume “Anasazi Mysteries” series penned by the husband and wife archaeologist team of Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear.  For decades the Gears have written wonderfully evocative novels about Native American peoples from the Paleo-Indian cultures to the historic tribes at the time of European contact.  All their works of fiction are informed by the archaeological and anthropological record and demonstrate that, despite the differences in time and place, prehistoric peoples shared some of the very same hopes, dreams, loves, hatreds, and fears as contemporary humankind.

Between 900 and 1250 AD, the Chaco Canyon area of present-day New Mexico was a major cultural center for the Ancestral Puebloans (the preferred terminology for the Anasazi portrayed in this series) and it is late in this period, as the once-flourishing culture began to disintegrate, that the Gears create the inhabitants of their fictional Talon Town, Hillside Village, Starburst Village and other communities of the Straight Path People. 

In alternating chapters, the Gears tell of the horrors the Straight Path folk face as a killer stalks among them as the lunar year draws to a close and folk from various clans and villages converge on the deserted and haunted Talon Town to mark the beginning of a new year and harvest cycle.  Young women appear to be targeted for brutal and inhuman deaths and a small cadre of warriors, both men and women, seek to stem the slaughter, which all believe is the work of a witch.

About 750 years later, archaeologist William “Dusty” Stewart leads a small crew into the environs of modern-day Chaco Culture National Monument to conduct a limited survey of National Park Service land sacred to the Native American population.  The survey—anticipated to be of limited scope and short duration-- will determine whether a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) weather monitoring station can be located at the site.

 In addition to Dusty, his right-hand Crew Chief Sylvia Rhone and Co-Principal Investigator, the very senior and avuncular Southwest archaeology expert, Dale Emerson Robertson (very likely patterned after the near-legendary archaeologist Lewis Binford), are Canadian physical anthropologist, Maureen Cole (with whom Dusty has serious personal and professional differences); National Park Service liaison, Magpie (Maggie) Walking Hawk Taylor; and her aunt, tribal monitor Hail Walking Hawk.

Much to everyone’s surprise (with the possible exception of Aunt Hail), the crew begins to unearth one burial after another—finally totaling at least eleven—and all showing signs of violence at the time of death as well as signs of witchcraft in the mix.  Conflicting theories on the exhumations pit Dusty against Maureen and the entire crew is caught up in conflicting judgements concerning scientific inquiry versus Native American beliefs and sensibilities.  The Gears present these potentially contentious issues with understanding and sensitivity.

This is a remarkable book on so many levels, not the least of which is the incredibly accurate portrayal of the craft of archaeology, as perhaps only real archaeologists like the Gears can convey.  In addition, the Gears present the reader with a great (and at times, terrifying) tale of mystery against the background of Southwestern Native American custom and ritual.

The Gears provide a chilling epilogue to this initial volume of the Anasazi Mysteries trilogy – hinting that the horror that stalked the People of the Straight Path Canyon had not been vanquished.

Four trowels for The Visitant.

Postscript:  My thanks to Jim Gallagher, who not only recommended the Anasazi Mysteries, but also introduced me to the wonders and excitement of archaeology field work many long years ago.  For both, but especially the latter, my eternal gratitude!