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In the first, newly-released novel in a series,Death at La Osa: A Pueblo Tribal Police Mystery,Santa Fe, New Mexico: Sunstone Press, 2021, Matthews introduces two main characters: Richard Tafoya, who is a Tulona Pueblo tribal policeman, and Janet Rael, a U.S. Forest Service biology specialist. An enduring relationship begins that is both professional and romantic. Here is the scene where they meet:
Early Monday morning, upon entering the Forest Service headquarters, Tafoya greeted a khaki-clad woman behind the front counter who was sorting out maps and brochures for the display case near the front door. There seemed to be a never-ending stream of tourists, hikers, prospectors, woodcutters, and mountaineers asking for maps and guidance into the wild and not-so-wild forests. The khaki-clad woman’s name tag read, “Janet Rael, MS, Biology Science Technician, U.S. Forest Service.” Tafoya had not seen her before.
“Good morning, Ms. Rael. Can you direct me to the F.B.I. investigation room? I’m Officer Richard Tafoya of the Tulona Tribal Police.”
Janet Rael set her filings of maps aside, stood up, and smiled. “I can do that, Officer Tafoya, but first I need to see some identification, strange as that sounds with you in uniform.” Janet had the complexion of creamed coffee, and her hair was dark and cut medium length, tucked under a Forest Service cap that was not the cheap kind, but the tailored, heavily embroidered, serious business style. Her eyes were light brown with flecks of gold. She wore no makeup; her eyebrows carefully trimmed. Around her neck, Janet had tied a red bandanna, tucked neatly beneath her shirt collar. Tafoya guessed she was five feet five, average weight. He wanted to know more about Janet Rael; but duty called.
Tafoya produced his creds. She read them, studied the photograph, and looked carefully at him. “You’ve lost weight, Officer Tafoya, from when the photograph was taken.”
“Yes, I have,” he replied. “I’m glad you noticed. That photograph was taken two years ago, and since that time I’ve gotten serious about keeping in shape. Also,” he said laughingly, “I have cut back on the fried bread and Spam at the Pueblo.”
Janet laughed; the laugh was melodious. “Well, I can see it’s you, Officer, so let me call the investigation room and tell them you are coming.”
She handed back his ID, and he made sure there was a slight touch of her fingers, as he took it back and tucked it in his pocket. Tafoya inwardly straightened his thinking toward the task at hand, rather than shifting into a mode of flirtation. He was single. He looked at her ring finger. Her finger was bare. That might not mean she wasn’t married since jewelry in her line of work—and his—was dangerous in the line of duty. Still, no ring on her finger might mean she was single, unencumbered. He promised himself, on another day, hail stones or not, he was coming back to the Forest Service headquarters, even if it meant to pick up a map of which he already had dozens.
Matthews’s Death at La Osa: A Pueblo Tribal Police Mystery by Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico, is the first novel of a series with the same setting, families, and main characters. The second novel, tentatively titled, Arroyo of Shells, is being edited, and the third book in the series, Cave of the Infinite Symbol, is nearing completion.
Jack Matthews writes and researches in Taos, New Mexico, and Fort Worth, Texas.
“A Lapidary Murder Mystery,” by Amy Boaz, The Taos News, in Tiempo, Feb. 24, 2022. Excerpts:
Turquoise functions like gold in this contemporary mystery set in the fictitious Tulona Pueblo in northern New Mexico. As Hernán Cortés is quoted as replying to Moctezuma’s question why the Spanish came to Tenochtitlan in 1519: “We Spanish have sickness of the heart and its only cure is gold.”
…The body of a man is found on the edge of Tulona Pueblo, punctured at the gut, yet having been moved from the original place where he bled to death. Called the Red Feather man by his boots and red bandana, the dead man seems to have been deliberately positioned to face the home of medicine man Santiago Majerus — rumored to be a sorcerer, a “Sleep Maker.”
…The bad guys in this novel try to exploit the ancient rivalries over turquoise mining in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, such as the long-exhausted King’s Manassa and Cerrillos mines. In this story, the elusive gemlike stones originate in the Blue Lady mine — containing another tantalizing legend that seduces greedy men.
…The strength of the novel lies in its layers of authentic detail — from tribal rituals and sense of ceremony, clan relations and grievances that reach back decades but are never forgotten, to the enchanting setting of the high desert, villages and local speech and customs. Author Matthews emphasizes in his preface (as well as in extensive endnotes) that he “respects boundaries” in his depictions, such as of Tulona Feast Day, and has abided by “standards of Article 31, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007.”
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The book was released on December 21, 2021, Winter Solstice.
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