Petersen (It Needs to Look Like We Tried) serves up a rollicking mystery full of heroes, mystics, petty criminals, and evil capitalists on the border of Utah and Arizona. After the shadowy Kristine Frangos hires the local Ashdown brothers to steal some maps of ancient sites from amateur collector Bruce Cluff, Bruce and one of the maps go missing. Meanwhile, anthropologist Sophia Shepard and park ranger Paul Thrift are exploring ancient Pauite sites—Sophia for research, Paul for an ulterior motive involving a pilfered artifact. Thrown together with a German tourist on a mystical hero’s quest, and helped by a reclusive savant called Dreamweaver, Sophia and Paul must outsmart an assassin hired by Frangos—who wants to pillage the sacred desert for minerals and more—to clean up the mess made by the Ashdowns. While a few too many coincidences pile on in the last pages, Peterson keeps up plenty of action and suspense while also offering philosophical insights on who owns the land. Petersen’s offbeat adventure keeps the reader turning the pages. (Jan.)
32nd Annual Reading the West Book Awards Nominee
Named Best Mystery Thriller in the 2021 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards
A Library Journal Title to Watch
"Outside your usual police detective procedural . . . Part thriller, part mystery, and part rumination of history and heritage." —Dana Welshans, MPR News
"All the characters you could possibly run into in southern Utah are in this book . . . Picnic in the Ruins is a mystery, a thriller, a dark comedy, and most importantly a narrative on the west as it is now, a complex place dealing with it’s history, it’s mythology and ownership. It’s a romp." —Marya, Out West Books, The Colorado Sun
"A romp populated with a cast of eccentric characters and marked by extreme moments of dark humor [and] delicious irony." —Allen Pierleoni, The OC Register
"Petersen's tightly written mystery plays out over the vast, unforgiving terrain on the Utah-Arizona border with a lineup of unforgettable characters . . . Petersen delivers a fast-paced chase over a hostile landscape while underscoring the past and present threats to Native American antiquities. Hang on tight and enjoy the ride." —Library Journal (starred review)
"A rollicking mystery . . . Peterson keeps up plenty of action and suspense while also offering philosophical insights on who owns the land. Peterson’s offbeat adventure keeps the reader turning the pages." —Publishers Weekly
"Part mystery; part quirky, darkly funny, mayhem-filled thriller; and part meditation on what it means to 'own' land, artifacts, and the narrative of history in the West . . . A fast-paced, highly entertaining hybrid of Tony Hillerman and Edward Abbey." —Kirkus Reviews
"Blending dark comedy and crime fiction, Petersen examines a moment in time that exquisitely reveals timeless and far-reaching themes . . . An excellent read for those who enjoy thrillers set in the Southwest and readers interested in the preservation of history and culture." —Booklist
"Fantastic . . . This isn’t just a thriller—it’s also one of the funniest books I have read in years . . . This is a perfect read for fans of Elmore Leonard, William Boyle, and The Coen Brothers." —Liberty Hardy, Book Riot
"Picture a Tony Hillerman-style tableau: a red rock desert beneath a deep azure sky, imbued with the history of the sacred rituals and artifacts of the Southern Paiute. Now add a Tim Dorsey or Carl Hiaasen-esque overlay, awash in desiccated Ford pickup trucks, characters who embody the word 'characters,' ulterior motives and belly-rumbling hilarity, and you’ll get an idea of the strange trip you’re about to embark on . . . Beneath all this, Petersen poses some intellectual questions, such as who really 'owns' land, what rights and responsibilities such ownership conveys and how the inevitable collisions between titled owners, the public good and the ancient claims of sacred ground should be addressed." —Bruce Tierney, BookPage
"[A] darkly comic, madcap thriller with overarching social themes . . . Picnic is wildly creative and easily envisioned." —Lauren O'Brien, Shelf Awareness
"In this twenty-first-century fusion of Zane Grey, Tony Hillerman, and Craig Childs, Todd Robert Petersen gives us a page-turner of a murder mystery." —Stephen Trimble, editor of Red Rock Stories
"A murderously addictive thrill-ride through the remote, rugged Utah-Arizona borderlands, where looting and vandalism of ancient cultural sites remain all too prevalent." —Scott Graham, National Outdoor Book Award-winning author of Mesa Verde Victim
"Reading Picnic in the Ruins is like watching a Tarantino film—scenes unfold to reveal a cast of divergent characters who are destined to collide; and when they do, you won't want to look away. Todd Robert Petersen delivers a roller coaster of a book!" —Margaret Mizushima, award-winning author of the Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries, including Hanging Falls
Petersen's tightly written mystery plays out over the vast, unforgiving terrain on the Utah-Arizona border with a lineup of unforgettable characters. While studying the ethics of preserving ancient artifacts, doctoral student Sophia Shepard crosses paths with self-taught collector Bruce Cluff. He regrets removing so many relics over the years and starts working from his hand-drawn maps and detailed notebook to return the ancient objects to their original sacred locations. The hapless Ashdown brothers, Lonnie and Byron, are hired by an energy company CEO looking for oil lease opportunities on national monument land to steal Cluff's maps and storehouse of rare Native American pots, stone tools, and weapons. But their clumsy efforts turn deadly, and the trail of destruction they wreak across federal lands with the CEO's fixer, Scissors, draws the attention of the local sheriff and the FBI. Add to the mix a German tourist who has left the Ranches, Relics, and Ruins tour on a quest for the "real" American West and an unethical journalist who repeatedly gums up the works, and the result is a frantic race to obtain the relics for good or bad. VERDICT Award winner Petersen (It Needs To Look Like We Tried; Long After Dark) delivers a fast-paced chase over a hostile landscape while underscoring the past and present threats to Native American antiquities. Hang on tight and enjoy the ride.—Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Grand Junction, CO
The fourth novel by Petersen is part mystery; part quirky, darkly funny, mayhem-filled thriller; and part meditation on what it means to "own" land, artifacts, and the narrative of history in the West.
Sophia Shepard is a Princeton anthropology Ph.D. student whose outspokenness has resulted in a kind of exile to remote southern Utah, where she's giving talks to busloads of visitors and studying tourist impacts on Native American sites. In Kanab she crosses paths with the Ashdowns, two sinister brothers, criminals who've botched a burglary, hastily half-covered the mess they made, and absconded with one of the artifact maps they were supposed to deliver. Soon a ruthless fixer—he's an ex–stage magician, the kind of amusing and fanciful touch that elevates this book—is on the Ashdowns' trail, and when Sophia stumbles across the brothers trying to excavate a back-country Paiute site with a stolen backhoe, hell breaks loose. Soon she—along with a roguish Department of the Interior agent she's befriended and a German dermatologist embarked on a hybrid of tourist jaunt and vision quest that has left him lost and disoriented in the desert—is being hunted by the fixer, too. Along the way they, and we, encounter a cybertech pioneer who's now a high-tech hermit; a famed video game deviser; a recently divorced small-town sheriff; a widow suffering the beginnings of dementia; and more. Petersen keeps piling on plot twists, eccentric characters, and well-described settings, and beneath the plot's pandemonium there's an intriguing meditation on "authenticity," on "ownership," and on the legacy of violence in the remote West.
A fast-paced, highly entertaining hybrid of Tony Hillerman and Edward Abbey.