Michael Norman exposes the dangers of pot hunting – the illegal excavation of Native American artifacts – in his newest mystery, Skeleton Picnic (Poisoned Pen Press). This second book in Norman’s J.D. Books Mysteries, following On Deadly Ground (2010), will be released in the U.S. on April 3, 2012.
Norman’s central character, J.D. Books, a Law Enforcement Ranger employed by the Bureau of Land Management, answers a call for help from Kanab, Utah Sheriff Charley Sutter as Skeleton Picnic begins. Retired high school teacher Rolly Rogers and his wife, Abigail, have been reported missing.
The couple had planned to travel to the Arizona Strip for a “skeleton picnic” – a dig for Indian relics. Although aware that such unauthorized excavations are illegal, the Rogers – and many like them – viewed the practice as merely an enjoyable and often remunerative hobby. When a group of violent men confront them on this latest dig, they realize that their pleasant pastime may have turned deadly.
J.D.’s first step in locating the couple is to search their home. He sees that a break in has occurred and learns that many of the family’s artifacts are missing. The Rogers’ truck is later found near an Anasazi excavation site. Evidence there suggests that the two have been kidnapped.
J.D. suspects that the Rogers are not the first amateur diggers to disappear in this manner. He contacts other officials in the area who confirm that four similar cases have taken place in the past two years.
Complicating J.D.’s investigation is the fact that the mother of a key suspect, twenty-year-old Joe Benally, demands that he be represented by Rebecca Eddins, J.D.’s girlfriend. J.D faces an even greater personal dilemma when he discovers that his sister’s husband, Bobby Case, is also implicated in the kidnapping.
Despite these obstacles, J.D. continues to conduct a deliberate and skilled investigation. Norman further enhances his depiction of J.D.’s expertise by adding novice investigator Beth Tanner, Sherriff Sutter’s young deputy, as J.D.’s apprentice.
Norman uses his own past experience both as a homicide detective and as a professor of Criminal Justice to make Skelton Picnic a solid example of the police procedural genre. The book’s one drawback is the author’s tendency to speculate in the “had I but known” mode, hinting at plot developments that will later occur. This practice clashes with the realism that otherwise characterizes this work.
The J.D. Books novels compose Michael Norman’s second mystery series. He began writing fiction in 2007 with The Commission, the first of two books to feature Sam Kincaid, Chief of the Special Investigations Branch of the Utah Department of Corrections, and Lt. Kate McConnell, a Salt Lake City Police Department homicide detective. Norman continued the Sam Kincaid series with the 2008 publication of Silent Witness and is now writing its third installment, The Talking Dead.
FTC Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided by its publicist, Maryglenn McCombs.