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by Scott Graham
Torrey House Press, June 2019
254 pages
ISBN: 1948814056

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Chuck Bender, an archaeologist working in U.S. national parks, manages to find not only Native American artifacts, but also murders during his digs. In ARCHES ENEMY, in Arches National Park near Moab, Utah, Chuck, his wife, and his two step-daughters are living in a camper trailer in Devil's Garden Campground while he works on surveying and documenting cave paintings that could change the historical narrative concerning early Native communities. Shortly after their arrival, one of the nearby arches falls, killing a woman who was (against Park regulations) on top of it.

There is a strong environmental theme to this book, as an oil and gas company has been allowed to search just outside of the Park. Searching involves using huge "thumper" trucks, causing mini-earthquakes, and it is one of these trucks that is presumed to be the cause of the arch's shattering and the woman's death. If that were the end of it, the investigation would be over quickly and Chuck could get back to his work. However, within the next 48 hours, there are two more deaths.

Chuck finds himself right in the middle of the investigation, given his relationship with the chief ranger at the Park. In addition, Chuck's long-estranged mother has set herself up as a "seer" in Moab, and she attempts to insinuate herself into his new family. He senses that she is somehow involved in the events surrounding the deaths, but she is hard to pin down and clarity doesn't come until the end of the book.

The writing about Native American history and the possible meaning of the cave art is poignant and compelling. Descriptions of the landscape make the desert come alive, and Graham has a way of drawing a clear picture of both setting and characters quickly so that the reader is drawn into the story and cares about the people almost immediately. The environmental message is clear, as Chuck sometimes loses his temper and is quick to cast blame on the oil and gas workers. For someone who has visited Arches National Park and recognizes its fragile beauty and importance, this message is frightening. Graham also captures the small moments in family life, and Chuck's hot-headedness as he attempts to deal with his teenage step-daughter rings true.

ARCHES ENEMY is Graham's 5th National Park Mystery. Like the others before it, it can be read as a stand-alone but benefits from a longer relationship with the characters. The book jacket contains superlatives from many writers about the great outdoors and the American Southwest, including Craig Johnson, Anne Hillerman, Margaret Coel, and William Kent Krueger. These are good indications of what the reader will find between the covers. I look forward to each new book in the series as it is published, and now have MESA VERDE VICTIM, projected for June 2020, to anxiously anticipate.

Sharon Mensing, retired educational leader, lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors in rural Wyoming.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, May 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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