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The Pot Thief Who Studied Georgia O'Keeffe

The Pot Thief Who Studied Georgia O'Keeffe

4.0 9
by J. Michael Orenduff

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America’s favorite pot thief must face off against the US Army to rescue a precious relic from obscurity in this clever and captivating mystery

A dealer in traditional Native American pottery, Hubie Schuze scours New Mexico in search of ancient treasures. The Bureau of Land Management calls him a criminal, but Hubie knows that the real


America’s favorite pot thief must face off against the US Army to rescue a precious relic from obscurity in this clever and captivating mystery

A dealer in traditional Native American pottery, Hubie Schuze scours New Mexico in search of ancient treasures. The Bureau of Land Management calls him a criminal, but Hubie knows that the real injustice would be to leave the legacies of prehistoric craftspeople buried in the dirt.
In all his travels across the state, there is one place that Hubie hasn’t been able to access: Trinity Site at the White Sands Missile Range, where the first atomic bomb was detonated. Deep within the range are ruins once occupied by the Tompiro people, whose distinctive pottery is incredibly rare and valuable. When an old associate claims to have a buyer interested in spending big money on a Tompiro pot, Hubie resolves to finally find a way into the heavily guarded military installation.
But Hubie has more on his mind than just outwitting the army’s most sophisticated security measures. He’s in love with a beautiful woman who has a few secrets of her own—and his best friend, Susannah, may have just unearthed a lost Georgia O’Keeffe painting. It’s a lot for a mild-mannered pot thief to handle, and when his associate is murdered and Tompiro pots start replicating like Russian nesting dolls, Hubie suddenly realizes he’s caught up in the most complex and dangerous mystery he’s ever faced.
The Pot Thief Who Studied Georgia O’Keeffe is the 7th book in the Pot Thief Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Orenduff’s enjoyable seventh Pot Thief mystery (after 2013’s The Pot Thief Who Studied Billy the Kid), Hubert Schuze, the Albuquerque, N.Mex., pot thief, learns of a buyer looking for a pot made by the Tompiro people. Schuze thinks he can find one on the prohibited, heavily guarded White Sands Missile Range. With the aid of friend and accomplice Susannah Inchaustigui, he manages to get into the target area and find a valuable pot, but he’s forced to bury it and leave the area without it. Schuze concocts an elaborate plan to retrieve the pot, only to find it gone. The real pot and at least one fake tantalize a bewildering number of collectors, one of whom becomes a murder victim. Schuze and Susannah’s clever word play, a torn canvas that may be an unknown O’Keeffe, and nods to several classic mysteries add to the fun. Agent: Philip Turner Book Productions. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
“Enjoyable . . . Clever word play, a torn canvas that may be an unknown O’Keeffe, and nods to several classic mysteries add to the fun.” —Publishers Weekly

“Fans of the series will flock to this latest installment, and readers who haven’t made Hubie’s acquaintance should be encouraged to do so. [A] nice mix of comedy and mystery.” Booklist

“I couldn’t have been more delighted. . . . [A] wildly enjoyable and satisfying read.” —Mystery Scene Magazine

“Sprinkled with a cast of characters, word play and word games . . . dealing with New Mexico history and geography. Detours spin off into other detours, which . . . are part of the lightheartedness of the story.” —Albuquerque Journal 

"The newest installment in J. Michael Orenduff’s smartly funny series is filled with wild situations, clever word play, and a good helping of fast-paced action. I loved every twist and pun.” —Anne Hillerman, bestselling author of Spider Woman’s Daughter
“I laughed out loud, I was thrilled, I learned a bunch of fascinating new things—must be a Pot Thief book. The Pot Thief Who Studied Georgia O’Keeffe may be the best yet in a truly wonderful series.” —Timothy Hallinan, author of the Poke Rafferty and Junior Bender novels
Praise for the Pot Thief Mysteries
“J. Michael Orenduff knows how to hook a reader from the get-go.” —Albuquerque Journal on The Pot Thief Who Studied Ptolemy
“Orenduff perfectly captures the beauty of the New Mexican sunset, a good friend and a margarita. Throw in the occasional dead body, and it’s pure enchantment.” —El Paso Times on The Pot Thief Who Studied Einstein
“Funny at a very high intellectual level and deliciously delightful.” —TheBaltimore Sun on The Pot Thief Who Studied Escoffier
Library Journal
Santa Fe, NM, dealer Hubert Schuze liberates ancient pots from their burial spots, much to the dismay of the Bureau of Land Management. In the seventh series entry (after The Pot Thief Who Studied Billy the Kid), Hubie is asked to find a Tompiro pot for a collector, but then the middleman is found dead. In addition, Hubie's friend may have unearthed a lost Georgia O'Keeffe painting. Plenty of fascinating archaeological details here.

Product Details

Open Road Integrated Media LLC
Publication date:
Pot Thief Series , #7
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

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Read an Excerpt

The Pot Thief Who Studied Georgia O'Keeffe

A Pot Thief Mystery

By J. Michael Orenduff


Copyright © 2016 J. Michael Orenduff
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-2085-5


The first thing I noticed about Carl Wilkes when he walked into Spirits in Clay was his beard had grown back after the chemo. It was neatly trimmed as it had been before the melanoma, but it was now mostly gray.

"You look a lot better than you did the last time I saw you."

"People who've been dead for a year look better than I did then."

"The important thing is you beat it."

"Yeah, Leon Spinks beat Muhammad Ali, but did you see Leon's face after the fight? You still make bad coffee?"

I gave him a cup. He looked around as he sipped. "I don't see that Tompiro pot. You sell it?"

"Last year."

"Get the thirty thousand you had it priced at?"

I nodded.

"You don't seem very happy about it."

"I had it almost twenty years. Now it's gone."

He was silent for a moment. "It was ugly."

I laughed. "Yeah, it was. That's the way they made them. I'll bet the potter thought it was beautiful. And I think it had a kind of inner beauty, imparted from its maker. I miss it."

"If you liked it so much, why did you sell it?"

"I had a buyer. I miss every pot I've ever sold. But I'm a dealer, not a collector. If I'm not willing to sell the pots, I should close the shop."

I poured myself some coffee. It wasn't all that bad.

He looked at me with those deep-set eyes. "There's something else, isn't there?"

"This place is just a way station for pots. I rescue them from the earth, pass them on to collectors who appreciate them."

"What if you didn't see it that way? What if, instead of pots, you were digging up gold nuggets, something natural that you couldn't connect to any human hand?"

Carl's cynical streak is tempered by his humor.

"I have no interest in gold. I don't dig up pots for the money. Like the mountain climber, I dig them up because they're there. Because people who walked this land centuries before I was born made them. It seems sacrilegious to just leave them there, never to be seen again."

"You may dig them up because you don't like the idea of them spending eternity in the dirt, but you make big bucks in the process."

"The money is a nice bonus. But the money from the Tompiro is already gone. The pleasure of unearthing it never will be."

"You need to experience that pleasure again. I have a buyer."

"You had a buyer for that Mogollon pot I stole from the museum, but his money disappeared when I finally got the pot."

"This buyer is legit. Prominent citizen. Tons of money."

"Even so, Tompiro pots are hard to come by."

He nodded. "That's why I came to you."

Wilkes launched me into a life of crime five years ago with an offer of $25,000 to steal a pot from a museum. Even though he enticed me, I can't blame the museum caper on Carl. But I also don't think it was entirely my fault. I admit my moral fiber unraveled enough to allow me to consider it. A reconnoiter of the museum brought me to my senses, and I decided not to do it.

But the moment I got home, a federal agent accused me of the very crime I had just resisted. I thought maybe that was a sign I ought to do it. If you're going to be punished anyway, why not commit the crime?

The pot in question — a spectacular Mogollon water jug — ended up in my possession but was eventually returned to the museum. I will not add the words where it belonged. That pot is all that remains of the life of the woman who made it. She put part of her soul in that clay. It deserves to be held and cherished by someone who cares. It does not belong on a plinth behind velvet ropes in a room no one ever visits.

Carl's second foray into my otherwise placid life did not involve any illegalities, just a blindfolded ride to an unknown location to do a simple appraisal of a collection of ancient pots. Which led to two murders, both of which I was charged with.

You may be wondering why, given my experiences with Carl, I fell for his latest get-rich-quick opportunity.

It's simple — I needed the money.

Of course, I didn't know I would end up in that cliff dwelling.


I opened my Benchmark New Mexico Road & Recreation Atlas to page seven and plopped it down in front of Susannah. Her margarita had no salt on its rim and was half empty.

"You're late," she said, and looked down at the atlas. Then she smiled and said, "You got lost and had to resort to a map?"

It was a joke, not a question. I could walk the three blocks from my shop to Dos Hermanas Tortillaria while unconscious. Come to think of it, I've made the return trip in that condition a time or two.

We meet there most days at five for chips, salsa and conversation, all of which mix well with tequila, lime juice and triple sec. Not to mention the spectacular New Mexico sunsets above the west mesa and the smell of piñon smoke hanging sweetly in the crisp desert air.

"Sorry. I was studying the atlas and lost track of time. Look at the outline of the state and tell me what shape it has."

She's accustomed to my quirks, so she played along. "It's basically a rectangle."

"You know what I see when I look at it? A doughnut."

"New Mexico has a hole in the middle?" I nodded.

She asked where the hole was, and her eyes followed my finger as I placed it just south of the middle of the state.

She squinted at the small type. "Trinity Site? The atom bomb blew a hole in the state?"

"Sort of."

"Not a good comparison. The hole in a doughnut goes all the way through. I suppose the bomb made a crater, but you can't look through it and see the sky over China."

She was right, of course. The detonation of the first atom bomb on July 16, 1945, vaporized the tower it was attached to and blasted out a big depression. But not as big as the depression I feel when I think about how many nuclear weapons have been built since then.

"The hole I'm talking about wasn't caused by the explosion. It was caused by the bomb."

"Huh? How can it be caused by the bomb but not the explosion?"

"Because if you're going to explode an atomic bomb, you need lots of space. So the government confiscated over three thousand square miles of land just to blow up one bomb."

"Well they couldn't very well blow it up with people around. And it isn't like the land was scenic oceanfront."

"Some of us think desert landscapes are more scenic than oceanfront. And it was over three thousand square miles. That's larger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined."

She pointed down at the map. "See these words right next to Trinity Site? Jornada de Muerto. If you have to blow up a big bomb, what better placed than one called Journey of Death? Where else could they have done it?"

"I don't know — Detroit?"

She chuckled. "So the hole is just a metaphor?"

"Right. Even if the bomb had been a dud, the hole would still be there. It's called the White Sands Missile Range. It's over a hundred and fifty miles north to south and fifty miles east to west. You can't walk on it. You can't drive through it. You can't even fly over it. It's in the middle of my state like a big doughnut hole and I can't get in."

She stared at me for a few seconds. "Ooooh, I get it. There's a place inside the missile range where you want to steal some pots."

My name is Hubert Schuze, and I've already admitted to you that I'm a pot thief. At least according to the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA). It's an unjust law, and I've been successfully ignoring it for over twenty years. I've never been caught. I've never even been charged. Although I have to admit that my illegal digging has occasionally plunged me into other sorts of agua caliente, but that's just a matter of bad luck.

"It isn't stealing," I said. "I was making a living digging up and selling ancient pots before ARPA was passed. I should have been grandfathered. Making my livelihood illegal after I already started practicing it is unconstitutional."

"Yeah, I remember that from when I was in pre-law. I can't remember what it's called, some phrase like post office."

"I think it's ex post facto."

She smiled. "Or maybe it's E pluribus unum."

"Whatever it's called, it isn't fair. How would you feel if you were a lowly peddler selling brooms door-to-door, and Congress passed a law requiring everyone to buy a vacuum cleaner? You'd be out of business."

"That's a ridiculous example, Hubie. Congress can't make people buy vacuum cleaners."

"They can make you buy health insurance. The Supreme Court said so."

"Health insurance is a far cry from vacuum cleaners."

"Right. Vacuum cleaners are cheap and you use them every day. Health insurance is expensive and you hope you never use it."

Her teasing me about being a thief is a staple of our cocktail-hour banter.

"I know your standard line by heart," she said. "The people who created those pots would prefer to have them admired rather than hidden away in the ground, and they belong to anyone who has the skill to find them."

"And I have that skill. But what good does it do me? I can't get in."

She twirled her glass and smiled at me. "Actually, you can."

I perked up. Susannah has shown considerable pluck as an accomplice in my illegal capers, from kicking in doors to shooting the gun out of a bad guy's hand à la Annie Oakley. Maybe she had a clever plan.

"How can I get in?"

"This is the month they open the Trinity Site to visitors."

I perked back down.

"I already thought of that. It won't work. The gate is open only from eight in the morning until two in the afternoon. So I'd have to drive along in broad daylight and just hope none of the MPs or the two thousand tourists notice me steer off the road and head out across open desert toward the Oscura Mountains and a site I think might contain some Tompiro pots."

"Maybe you could find a turnoff when no cars are close and drive your four-wheel Bronco along a deep arroyo."

"Seems like a long shot."

"You won't know if you don't try. And if it turns out to be impossible to leave the road without being spotted, you could just visit the Trinity Site like the other tourists."

"I don't want to visit the Trinity Site. I want to visit a ruin on the western slope of the Oscura Mountains." I shrugged. "It's irritating that I can't go there. I need the money, but it isn't worth the risk. Although I sometimes think of myself as a short Indiana Jones, the truth is we don't have much in common."

"Yeah. Starting with the fact that you're real and he's a fictional character."

"But he's a real fictional character."

"As opposed to what? A fictional fictional character?"

"No. I mean he's real in the sense that they created his character with the movies. We all know him. He's tall and daring and frequently swashes his buckle."

"Or buckles his swash. You can also be pretty daring when you have to be."

"But I don't want to have to be. I hate taking risks."

"So if it looks too risky, just keep driving until you reach the Trinity Site. It might be interesting."

"It is not interesting. The only facilities are the Porta-Potties next to the parking lot, and the only thing to see besides the big crater are the trinitites."

"That's what they call people who live there?"

"No one lives there, Suze. Trinitites are pieces of the stuff created by the explosion. It was hotter than the surface of the sun and fused the desert sand into glasslike chunks."

"You could bring back a piece as a souvenir."

"Not if I ever want to have children."

"They're radioactive?"

"Yeah, and you're not allowed to touch them. Some of the isotopes in those green chunks have a half-life of twenty-five thousand years."

"Why not just say they have a full life of fifty thousand years?"

"I don't know, and it doesn't matter. There is no prospect of me having children."

"You're not too old to be a father."

"I wasn't referring to my age." I'm between forty and fifty. Okay, closer to fifty.

"Oh. So you and Sharice still haven't —"


"So what's the holdup?"

Susannah is refreshingly blunt. She's short of thirty the same number of years I am from fifty. She's tall and outdoorsy with thick brown hair and big brown eyes that betray her every mood. She's attractive but not like the contestants in a traditional beauty contest. Which is a good thing, because I can't imagine her consenting to parade around in a bikini. But despite a dazzling smile that matches her personality, she hasn't yet attracted the right guy. Maybe men can't deal with her lack of guile. She's not the person to ask how you look if you happen to be ugly.

I pointed down at the cast on my ankle. "This thing makes it sort of awkward."

A mischievous smile formed on her lips. "Awkward could be fun."

"Not going to happen. She said maybe after the cast is off."

"You had the cast off, and it didn't happen."

"I had it off for one day. Then I had to have a new one on."

"I still can't believe you re-sprained your ankle jumping off the curb."

"It's a higher-than-normal curb."

"Right. Ten inches."

I ignored the sarcasm. "I get this one off tomorrow, but sex with Sharice is still a maybe."

"You've been dating for months. How long does it take the girl to decide she likes a guy enough to —"

"I don't think that's the issue. The maybe is not about whether she likes me. It's about something she has to tell me before we have sex."

Now it was her turn to perk up. "You have any idea what this something is?"

"Not a clue."

"Darn. I'm dying to know."

"Not as much as I am. I have more riding on it."

She laughed and said, "Let's try to figure it out."

"I'm not sure I want to discuss —"

"Come on, Hubie. Don't be so uptight. You need to be prepared for whatever it is. If we can think of all the possibilities, you won't be caught off guard. Maybe I can even give you some hints about how a girl might want you to respond."

"Respond to what?"

"To whatever the thing is she has to tell you before you two roll in the hay."

"I just told you I don't know what it is."

"That's why we need to make a complete list. You must have thought about it, so give me the possibilities that came to mind."

She pulled a pencil from her purse, smoothed her napkin on the tabletop and looked at me expectantly.

I was uncomfortable with this discussion, but once Susannah gets the bit between her teeth, she's difficult to whoa.

"Well, one thought I had was maybe she's a ... uh, that she's never ..."

She started laughing. "You think she's a virgin?"

"Well, you wanted possibilities."

"You have a picture of her?"

I retrieved the one Sharice had given me and handed it across the table.

Susannah studied the picture. "She's beautiful and exotic, sort of like Carmen Veranda."

"That's Carmen Miranda."

She frowned. "Did they name that warning after her?"

"No, her brother," I said deadpan.

She returned the picture to me. "She's attractive, she's in her thirties and we know she dates. She is not a virgin."

"She's from Canada." I just sort of blurted it out.

She rolled her eyes. "Just because the weather up there is frigid doesn't mean the women are. What do your lips tell you? Does she kiss like a virgin?"

"So far as I know, the only virgin I ever kissed was Lupita Fuentes."

"Yeah, you told me that story. Your birthday piñata broke open and you and Lupita jumped for the same piece of candy. She grabbed it first, stuck it on her tongue and asked you if you wanted to taste it."

"Which I did. And since she was eleven, it's safe to assume she was a virgin."

"Probably. But the way she was handing out French kisses makes me wonder how long she remained one."

"Can we move on to another possibility?"

"You look so sweet when you're embarrassed. What's next on the list?"

"Maybe she's contemplating becoming a nun."

She threw her hands in the air. "And she's dating you just as a test to see if she'd be able to resist sex the rest of her life?"

"She seems to know a lot about friars."

"How did chickens get into this conversation?"

"Not f-r-y-e-r-s. F-r-i-a-r-s."


"Right. She told me that in Canada, Carmelites are called White Friars and Dominicans are called Black Friars. Maybe she knows about the orders because she's contemplating entering one."

"Or more likely it's just because she's from Canada and has heard people call them that all her life. Why are they called that, by the way?"

"The Dominicans wear black cloaks and the Carmelites wear white ones."

"Glad we cleared that up. Maybe your chances of having sex with Sharice would improve if you talked about something a bit more romantic than monks."

"She's the one who brought it up."


"She was making a point about black and white."

"She's hesitating to have sex with you because you're white?"

"No. On my last visit to the dentist, she gave me two toothbrushes."

Susannah did that thing where she pulls her shoulders back and thrusts her head forward. It makes her look goofy but still cute, and it means she's confused.

"And you think I'm bad about non sequencers?" she asked.

"That's non sequiturs."

"Whatever. I only get one toothbrush from my hygienist."

"So do I. But this time Sharice gave me two, a white one she said was mine and a black one she said I can keep for her at my place just in case."

She smiled at me. "I think we can eliminate the becoming-a-nun theory."


Excerpted from The Pot Thief Who Studied Georgia O'Keeffe by J. Michael Orenduff. Copyright © 2016 J. Michael Orenduff. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

J. Michael Orenduff grew up in a house so close to the Rio Grande that he could Frisbee a tortilla into Mexico from his backyard. While studying for an MA at the University of New Mexico, he worked during the summer as a volunteer teacher at one of the nearby pueblos. After receiving a PhD from Tulane University, he became a professor. He went on to serve as president of New Mexico State University.

Orenduff took early retirement from higher education to write his award-winning Pot Thief murder mysteries, which combine archaeology and philosophy with humor and mystery. Among the author’s many accolades are the Lefty Award for best humorous mystery, the Epic Award for best mystery or suspense ebook, and the New Mexico Book Award for best mystery or suspense fiction. His books have been described by the Baltimore Sun as “funny at a very high intellectual level” and “deliciously delightful,” and by the El Paso Times as “the perfect fusion of murder, mayhem and margaritas.”

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The Pot Thief Who Studied Georgia O'Keeffe 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
DianaH-Maine More than 1 year ago
Hubert Schuze is a ‘pot thief’ and proud of it. Although the US Government’s Bureau of Land Management bans the digging up of artifacts from archeological/cultural/historical sites, Hubie philosophizes his way out of any guilt. The 7th and latest book in Michael Orenduff’s ‘pot thief’ series is entitled THE POT THIEF WHO STUDIED GEORGIA O’KEEFFE. I enjoyed it very much, as I have enjoyed all the books in the series, with wonderful titles like THE POT THIEF WHO STUDIED PYTHAGORAS, THE POT THIEF WHO STUDIED PTOLEMY and THE POT THIEF WHO STUDIED BILLY THE KID, to name a few. The mysteries/puzzles are very thoughtful and they are often solved through mathematical theories and logic. When Hubie and Sussanah discuss and ‘talk through’ their various problems (over margaritas and salsa every afternoon at Dos Hermanas Tortillaria), it is often a pseudo math lesson (for me, anyway). The regular cast of characters - Hubert, Sussanah, Tristan & Martin - are interesting and dynamic. I particularly like Sussanah and her ranching/Basque Family background. Sitting here in New England on a snowy afternoon, it is fun for me to be transported to Albuquerque, New Mexico and its environs. There is a strong sense of place. The titles are also very clever, which I enjoy. I recommend this title and all the others in Orenduff’s very distinctive ‘pot thief’ series.
Anonymous 7 days ago
So much fun, learning painlessly about O'Keefe, Ancient Cultures, Trinity Site, and more! My favorite of this series so far. Characters that are interesting and endearing. I love Hubert and friends.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was invited to review this book by Netgalley and the Publisher. I wish I could have given the book a higher rating. I liked the characters and the New Mexico setting. . The second half of the book was better than the first half. The first half is slow and it takes a long time to get to the mystery. The book is part of a series and the author takes a long time in introducing the characters. The main character (the Pot Thief) has a love interest and a female friend named Susannah. While the author spends a lot of time explaining the backgrounds of the other characters, he spends very little time on the history of the relationship main character (the Pot Thief) and Susannah. In the book Susannah is a major figure. She is the amateur detective of the book. Many of her ideas about how to solve crimes come from reading mystery books. While the idea of an amateur detective getting her ideas for her reading of mystery novels could be highly entertaining, some of her references to other mystery books I found confusing. The second half of the book improves it gets to the mystery. The book was enjoyable. However, despite having all the ingredients for being a better light mystery, the book does not hit it desired target. The author needs to improve his actual execution of what are good ideas for a mystery.