Book Reviews

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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!

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Mesa Verde Victim by Scott Graham

Reviewed on: May 1, 2022


Torrey House Press:  Salt Lake City
2020 (PB)

In his sixth adventure, contract archaeologist Chuck Bender finds himself embroiled in a deadly string of events that began in the ancient site that became known as Mesa Verde in the Four Corners part of Colorado.  In 1891 young Joseph Cannon was sent on a secret excavation by noted Swedish scholar and the first scientific excavator of Mesa Verde, Gustaf Nordenskiold, and was viciously murdered, his body undiscovered in a lost adobe structure.  130 years later the body of Chuck’s friend and fellow archaeologist, Barney Keller, is found shot to death outside Chuck’s home in Durango, Colorado.  The murder must surely be tied to the ransacking of Chuck’s home office and a postcard clutched in the dead man’s hand—a postcard featuring the likeness of the famed mummified remains of an Ancestral Puebloan woman excavated in the 1930s.

While not immediately evident, the two violent deaths are inextricably bound together and will come to an equally violent denouement in the sliver of no man’s land between the Ute reservation and Mesa Verde National Park—a thin strip that not only conceals the body of the unfortunate Joseph Cannon but may also entomb artifacts that would add significant insights into the spiritual lives of the Ancestral Puebloans.  A somewhat secretive excavation of this site has been undertaken by Southwest Archaeology Enterprises (SAE), a local cultural resources management firm at the behest of Elizabth Mantry nee Cannon, a descendant of Joseph Cannon’s, and Ilona Koskinen, a scholar from the National Museum of Finland, wherein much of Gustaf Nordenskiold’s Mesa Verde finds had been curated.  Chuck’s only real concern is to help the police discover Barney’s murderer—and coincidentally clear himself of any lingering suspicions, for it was, after all, just outside his home where Barney was murdered!  But his inquiries ultimately bring into focus the link between Barney’s death and the hunt for archaeological treasure at Mesa Verde.  Another brutal murder—this time of the contract archaeologist leading the dig for SAE—demonstrates that, if it wasn’t evident before, the stakes in this game are very high indeed.  Chuck and his family are caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse at the seemingly cursed site, and the ultimate denouement is both surprising and unexpected as the identity of the murderer—or is it murderers?—is revealed.

As in previous “National Park Mysteries,” as this series is subtitled, the portrayal of the archaeological enterprise is accurate and realistic, and natural splendor and beauty of these parks is lovingly rendered.  And as in previous volumes, Chuck – a forty-something adult, continues to do some dumb stuff and often puts himself and his loved ones in grave danger.  But he ultimately wins the day and will probably not change his ways in future volumes as a result.  But perhaps one of these days his fiery wife Janelle and his precocious step-daughter Rosie and Carmelita will convince him to quit putting them in harm’s way!

Three trowels for the entertaining, if occasionally exasperating Mesa Verde Victim.