Tularosa, Michael McGarrity, Pocket, $6.50.
I know I'm coming late to the party, but as a mystery reader, I have to start at the beginning. (For hard core McGarrity fans, there is a new Kevin Kerney novel out entitled Everyone Dies.) McGarrity's books have been frequently compared to Tony Hillerman's, but apart from sharing a setting with that fine author, these books have far more in common with authors like William Kent Krueger and Steve Hamilton. McGarrity's hero, Kevin Kerney, is cut from the same loner/outsider-hero cloth as Cork O'Connor and Alex McKnight. Since this is one of the more satisfying set-ups in all of the mystery genre - with roots reaching all the way back to Ross McDonald's classic Lew Archer novels - this makes for a more than pleasing reading experience. McGarrity's skills at making you care about Kerney are tremendous - by the end of the novel, he had, for me, assumed the flesh and blood mantle of many other classic mystery heroes. Setting this wonderful retiree from the Santa Fe Police department in the middle of nowhere, recovering from injuries sustained on the job and repairing his roof, and having his ex-partner show up asking Kerney to find his son, helps the book to hit the ground running - and it doesn't let up until the last page.
Kerney acquires a temporary Lieutenant's badge from an old cop friend, and he heads over to the White Sands Missile Range to try and track down his partner's son, who has supposedly gone AWOL. Kerney, the boy's godfather, doesn't believe he's gone AWOL for a moment. He receives only reluctant help from the military powers-that-be in the form of Captain Sara Brannon, who not only has a background check run on him, but has his room searched and every move he makes carefully watched. Of course any serious mystery reader will divine early on that Kerney and Sara are destined to be together (and indeed, in the latest installment, they are married and expecting a child), but this is well handled by McGarrity as he gets Sara in a very nasty place toward the end of the novel, making the reader end up by caring about her as much as you care about Kerney himself.
The story itself is delightfully complicated and takes the reader all over the military base as well as to Mexico, and involves some missing antiquities. I really minded the two deaths in the novel that are of consequence (one animal, one human) - I'm not counting bad-guy deaths - which for me ratcheted up my investment in the outcome of the story. This is a very solid beginning to what has turned out to be a steady selling and popular series - I'm glad I finally found out the reason why these books are so well liked, and I look forward to welcoming Michael McGarrity to Aunt Agatha's on October 5.
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