‘Ghost Canyon’ brings murder to Chaco Canyon

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“Ghost Canyon” by James C. Wilson

“Ghost Canyon,” the fourth guide in James C. Wilson’s Fernando Lopez Santa Fe Mystery sequence, has quite a bit – possibly an excessive amount of – occurring.

Lopez is a Santa Fe police detective assigned to assist Patricia Begay, a Navajo FBI agent investigating the murder of ranger Pete Chavez at Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

The story hyperlinks Lopez’s out-of-town task to an earlier murder scene in Santa Fe – the killing of eccentric Santa Fe artist Tom Flynn.

On Flynn’s mattress is an outdated leather-bound journal Flynn’s grandfather had saved whereas working with buying and selling submit operator Richard Wetherill excavating Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon’s largest break. A single web page is torn from the journal. The final entry earlier than the lacking web page, written on Aug. 23, 1906, refers to “Wetherill’s plan to cover a cache of the extra invaluable jewellery and pottery to promote” at his buying and selling submit.

At Chaco, Lopez and Begay probe Chavez’s murder, the unlawful digging at Pueblo Bonito by violent looters, and the disappearance of head ranger Jim Murphy.

Along the best way, the thriller serves up entertaining, intriguing sidebars involving minor gamers and ghosts that will or could also be associated to the crimes.

There’s Paul and June Bryan, a pair tenting at Chaco. They personal a Santa Fe enterprise Paul insists sells greater than intercourse toys. They concentrate on aura images. June is a karmic wound and power healer; New Age-y stuff. Paul has a quiet pottery-collecting aspect gig. Huh. Paul introduces Lopez to Marcy, a colleague and fellow camper. She calls herself a intercourse therapist. In the identify of remedy, Marcy takes up with a park ranger, Chet, and later with a suspicious park customer named Earl, a employee at a close-by oil rig. Curiously, Earl asks in regards to the Chaco workers’s watchfulness for unlawful digging.

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James C. Wilson

Then there’s pot-smoking campers Roy and Carla Tompkins of Arroyo Seco.

They refer to themselves as Laurentians.

“It used to be a joke in Taos. People who imagine in free love. The entire D.H. Lawrence cult,” Wilson defined in a telephone interview.

In dialogue and narrative, one deeply feels that Chaco is haunted, magical. Murphy mentioned it’s not unusual to see lights shifting among the many ruins or to hear sounds coming from components of the canyon. To which, Begay replies, “The ghosts are all over the place right here. I can really feel them.”

A recurring ghostlike determine is a person in an extended black duster and wide-brimmed hat. Chavez, moments earlier than his dying, is the primary to see the shadowy determine who appears “to float throughout the room towards him, reaching out a hand now, making an attempt to talk.”

Wilson repeatedly attracts on his earlier nonfiction guide for background in “Ghost Canyon.” That 2019 guide is “Hiking New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon: The Trails, the Ruins, the History.”

Wilson acknowledged he had a harder time writing “Ghost Canyon” than he did the earlier three volumes within the thriller sequence.

“That’s as a result of it’s so heavy with truth. There’s a variety of guidebook in (‘Ghost Canyon’) and I feel it slowed down the fiction writing,” he mentioned. The many prolonged references to Chaco’s trails, ruins and historical past slowed down the studying for this reviewer. And possibly too many particulars of Chaco’s geography. Example: “Off to his proper he may make out the jagged partitions of Chetro Ketl silhouetted in opposition to the North Mesa cliff. To his left he may see the luminous patch of sky over South Gap, between the shadows of West and South mesas.”

Other points – together with defective enhancing – stalled the stream. At one level early on, whereas nonetheless in Santa Fe, Lopez is interviewing Clint Jackson, an indignant codger who lives in Tom Flynn’s visitor home. Lopez asks Jackson if he is aware of what’s written on the outdated journal’s lacking web page.

The response?

“Flynn shook his head.” Not doable. Flynn is already useless. Jackson shook his head.

Some pages later, Lopez meets Begay for the primary time, pondering:

“She was clearly Navajo, with raven black hair braided to the center of her again.”

The guide leaves unanswered what was so apparent about Begay’s tribe. Her surname? Her hairdo?

The majority of the guide is about in Chaco Canyon. But Lopez returns to Santa Fe to confront extra dying and drama within the conclusion. Wilson, a 73-year-old Albuquerque resident, is emeritus professor of English and journalism on the University of Cincinnati. Prior to that he was a reporter and freelance author in Santa Fe within the mid-Seventies. Wilson can be the creator of what he termed a analysis memoir about residing with an autistic son and he’s revealed a number of scholarly books.

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