The stark beauty of New Mexico has inspired authors from all genres. The relatively intact cultures of the Native Americans of the area, particularly the Hopi and Navajo, are also sources of literary output. Today, I'm going to focus on mysteries set in New Mexico, all of which are full of a palpable sense of place.
In the Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn mysteries, two Navajo policemen use both their knowledge of modern forensics and traditional ways to solve crimes in this long-running series, started by Tony Hillerman and continued by his daughter, Anne. In an interesting subversion of stereotypes, it is the younger Jim Chee who is the traditionalist, and Joe Leaphorn who is more into technology and Anglo ways. This series really started the demand for fast-paced and suspenseful mysteries set in Indian Country.
Franz Kafka (no, not that one) has finally found a place where his name doesn't start awkward conversations: Milagro, New Mexico. In this series debut, The Quality of Mercy, by Katayoun Medhat, K, as he calls himself, struggles against good ole boys and bureaucratic indifference, trying to put the right people in jail. He also rides around a lot with Robbie Begay, a tracker with the Navajo Tribal Police. Leavened with sardonic humor, one learns much about Navaho Language and culture in this deliberately-paced tale of a town with plenty going on beneath the surface.
In the Santa Fe Mysteries, Christine Barber teams up newspaper editor Lucy Newroe and detective Gil Montoya to unravel whodunits in a multiethnic city. Winner of the Tony Hillerman prize, Barber brings a humane touch to police procedurals while illuminating the celebrations and customs of New Mexico.
David Carlson pulls together several threads to make a mystery in Enter by the Narrow Gate. In this series opener, Christopher Worthy, a homicide detective from Detroit, is in New Mexico looking for a missing person. He runs into Fr. Fortis, a Trapppist monk, who has a murder of a nun for him to solve. The two sleuths follow the same clues in opposite directions, leading to a thrilling climax.
Finally, there are the Ella Clah Mysteries by Aimée and David Thurlo. Ella Clah is a special investigator for the Navajo Tribal Police in Shiprock. With her FBI background and tribal roots, she's in high demand as she tries to balance her work with walking in beauty. These richly-detailed, fast-paced books often touch on various issues confronting the Navajo, whether casinos or energy companies on reservation land.
Got more books about the Land of Enchantment? Tell us about them in the comments.