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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

Canyon Sacrifice by Scott Graham

June 1, 2015

Torrey House Press LLC:  Salt Lake City, UT
2014 (PB)

Chuck Bender is a 40-something contract archaeologist who works out of Durango, Colorado.  After a lifetime of knocking around the great American Southwest as a confirmed bachelor, he has finally met the woman of his dreams, Janelle Ortega, a beautiful young Hispanic woman with two young daughters—and the sister of his assistant excavator, Clarence.  Following a whirlwind romance and a quick wedding—perhaps a bit too hurried as far as her parents and best friends are concerned—Chuck and his brand new family, including five year old Rosie and seven year old Carmelita, plan a honeymoon camping trip on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.  The hope is that the girls will accept Chuck as their new father as he introduces them to the incredible beauty of the Canyon and the land he has excavated for decades.

The challenges of new fatherhood are daunting but the fits and starts of his stumbling, bumbling attempts at ingratiating himself give way to terror when Carmelita disappears from the camp and a note reading “NO COPS” is left behind.  Janelle’s immediate guess is that the kidnaping is the work of the violence-prone, drug-dealing father of the girls, Miguel Gutierrez.  What follows is a tense 48 hours of searching for the girl, all the while trying to meet the kidnaper’s demands, which seem to be a strange combination of financial reward and vengeance.

First-time mystery writer Scott Graham ratchets up the tension and artfully leads the unsuspecting reader into a labyrinth of false leads and red herrings.  The settings and detailed descriptions of the Grand Canyon and the history and mythology of the Anasazi culture are integral to the eventual resolution of this horrific crime.  Mr. Graham is obviously in love with this rugged part of the country and its archaeology, and he brings a great deal of knowledge of both to the story.

If there is a weakness to this novel, it is the author’s tendency to have virtually all of his major characters—smart and competent individuals, all of them– act stupidly and make incredibly poor choices when faced with a continuing crisis.  Nonetheless, this is a fine initial effort and I look forward to future “National Park Mysteries.”  Three trowels for Canyon Sacrifice.