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Posted December 16, 2002
All Smoke, No Fire
Intertwining contemporary archaeology with an Anasazi mystery is a good premise. Unfortunately, the authors fail to execute it well. Repetitious descriptions deaden the writing, making it flat and formulaic. No less than three times, Catkin's black braid is described as " a glistening serpent lying across her back." Too often, moonlight "gilds" or "sheaths" her "upturned nose," "beautiful oval face," and lots of others things. I lost track of how many times yellow cottonwood leaves glinted or glimmered in the autumn sun or swirled somewhere (down paths, on the river, over the kiva edge, etc.) We are reminded ad nauseum of the glints in Dusty's blond beard and hair, of the chin-length black bangs plastered to Browser's face by sweat, of his knee-length war shirt whipping against brush or bushes. Concerning Elder Stone Ghost, "Thin white hair blew around his face as he looked up at Browser." A mere three lines later we read, "Thin white hair blew around [Browser's] uncle's wrinkled face. Sloppy! Where was the editor when the authors needed him/her? Gestures are recycled until they become tedious. People tuck stray hairs behind their ears or under their hats again and again. Lots of brows draw together lots of times. There is much cupping of coffee cups, sipping of coffee, gripping of war clubs in hard fists, and clasping of capes. The result is unintentionally comic and Chaplin-esque. These characters come across more like marionettes than full-blooded people. The problems are not merely stylistic. Early on, too much information is thrown at the reader, confusing him/her: a mummy hanging from a rock, copper bells apparently left as bait, a murderous female, a little girl tagging along with her, somebody in a wolf kachina mask, a vicious pack of white-caped warriors, a woman with her eyes gouged out, beheaded bodies in a kiva, the heads in a grove, a necklace that seems important....Whew! The narrative would have been more coherent and the pacing better if these details had been doled out more slowly, one at a time. Easing into a good mystery should be like worming into a ripe apple: the deeper you dig, the darker and juicier it gets. Sexual tension between Dusty and Maureen is a central conflict in the novel's contemporary portion. However, their unresolved mutual attraction/revulsion soon became frustrating, if not downright annoying. When are these two going to hop in the sack together? Or at least confront their obvious feelings for each other? I know, I know...this fat novel is one in a series of fat novels, and the authors want to keep things simmering. Maybe we'll find out if anything happens between Dusty and Maureen several thousand pages hence. Want to wait that long? I don't. Hopefully someday somebody will give prehistoric Southwestern peoples the fictional treatment they deserve. But not today.
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