Thursday, November 19, 2015
DARK RESERVATIONS by John Fortunato
A debut novel usually piques my attention and eagerness - those feelings were doubled when I saw that Dark Reservations was the winner of the 2014 Tony Hillerman Prize. Very sorry to say that it did not live up to my expectations. On the plus side were the author’s descriptions of New Mexico - its cities, deserts and plateaus. On the negative side I struggled with a multi-layered plot and characters that did not win me save for one whom we lost early on.
The novel is presented in what may be called a series of vignettes being related from the points of views of different characters. (One of whom seemed a likely suspect but then disappeared and one wonders why he appeared in the first place.) The story centers on Bureau of Indian Affairs Special Agent Joe Evers, man who has been hurt deeply both personally and professionally. He lost his beloved wife and botched an important case. Considered washed-up and a loser by his cohorts Joe takes refuge in drinking too much and anticipating early retirement - just three months away.
Then what’s left of a car that belonged to New Mexico Congressman Arlen Edgerton who disappeared in 1988 is found in a way out corner of the Navajo reservation. At the time of the congressman’s disappearance the rumor mill found him guilty of corruption, taking a pot of money and carrying on with his secretary, Faye Hannaway, who vanished with him as did his driver, Nicholas Garcia. Joe’s supervisor gives the investigation to him.
Any reopening of this case would have a major effect on numerous folks including Edgerton’s widow who is leading in the New Mexico governor’s race, Arthur Othmann, a too rich crooked art collector, William Tom, an ex Navajo Nation president, and Kendall Holmes, an important senator. Any one of these might have reason to put up roadblocks for Joe - and there are many.
Really do wish I could be more positive about Dark Reservations but between a set-up that could be seen from a mile away yet the experienced Joe strolls right into it and repetitions of the denigrations and betrayals hurled at Joe the story line disappointed.