Durango author Scott Graham is releasing his sixth novel, “Mesa Verde Victim,” in his highly successful National Park Mystery Series. This story is really close to home. The action takes place not only at Mesa Verde but in places around Durango and Falls Creek.
The history of the ancestral Puebloans are evident all over this area. The act that starts this tale occurred over a hundred years ago.
In present time, a previously unknown event brings forces to life that disrupt and threaten Chuck Bender and his young family. Chuck owns Bender Archaeological, and his business does well because of the many sites located in the Four Corners. Chuck’s younger wife, Janelle, is a paramedic working part time. Chuck is also stepfather to Carmelita, 14, a rock climbing phenomenon, and Rosie, 12, a sixth grader searching for her special talent.
It is Saturday in early October, and Chuck is having a father-daughter day at the local climbing gym while Janelle is on shift. As he packs up their gear, his phone lights up with multiple texts, alarmingly, many from the local police. When Chuck and the girls arrive home near downtown Durango, they are greeted by a crowd and multiple police cars.
As Chuck pushes his way onto his property, he is beyond shocked to find a covered body just outside his gate in the alley. The officer on scene turns out to be a former girlfriend who will not say who the victim is. Apparently, there was also a break-in, and his office is ransacked. When Janelle arrives, she informs Chuck that she heard over the radio that the dead person is a fellow archaeologist and good friend, Barney Keller.
Chuck and his family can’t go into their house so they go over to Janelle’s brother’s house. Clarence Ortega lives nearby and also works in archaeology. He has worked with Chuck in the past but most recently has been working with the deceased Barney for Southwest Archaeology Enterprises, which is owned by Michaela McDermott. For some reason Chuck doesn’t understand, when the police interviewed McDermott, she implied that Chuck or Clarence might have had something to do with Barney’s death.
In the middle of grief and being put in the position of “persons of interest,” Chuck and his family determinedly set out to find the murderer. Complications arise when another SAE archaeologist, Samuel Horvat, calls Chuck to hurry over to a secret site on Wetherill Mesa that he is working on that isn’t technically in Mesa Verde.
As Chuck, Clarence and Janelle strive to solve this increasingly complex crime, the family become targets for those bent on retrieving what could be considered a landmark archaeological find in America. It seems no one is safe from these forces of greed and vengeance.
With “Mesa Verde Victim,” not only will readers be treated to a tense, convoluted plot populated by colorful characters, but to a treasure trove of information about the archaeological wealth to be found here in Durango and Mesa Verde. It is a pleasure to recognize places that are familiar while being absorbed by this tantalizing mystery.
Leslie Doran is a retired teacher, freelance writer and former New Mexican who claims Durango as her forever home.