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At Ease with the Dead - Walter Satterthwait

”There’s something obscene and horrific about a stocking mask. The taut translucent fabric distorts the face, reminding you of the malleability of flesh, its fragility, its transience. It transforms the eyes and mouth to evil slits, the nose to a grotesque blob, turns them all into a vision, dreadful, repellent, vaguely remembered from ancient sweat-soaked dreams.”

Joshua Croft, Santa Fe private investigator, was hired by a Navajo named Daniel Begay to help find and recover the bones of his ancestor that were taken by an archaeologist in 1925.

Talk about a cold trail.

This all begins with Joshua going up to the lake to relax. He douses himself with repellent with limited results.

”The deerflies, nastier than the mosquitoes, buzzing like miniature chainsaws, would dive closer and closer to exposed flesh. Finally one of them, braver than others, or maybe suffering from a sinus condition, would shoot through the invisible screen and get to me. THey didn’t just sting, didn’t just draw blood; they ripped out chunks of meat, slung them over their shoulders, and carted them home. I was supplying flank steak to their extended families.”

Joshua ends up saving Daniel from a trio of morons up at the lake who with the courage of a handgun wanted to watch the redskin dance. The old adage of once you save a man’s life you are responsible for that life for the rest of your days may just be a proverb, but to Joshua it wasn’t just words. When Daniel shows up at his office asking for help, despite the seemingly absurdity of the request, Croft doesn’t hesitate to drive down to El Paso to ask some questions at the University where the archaeologist chaired a department.

After dealing with murderers, rapists, adulterers, kidnappers, and serial liars Croft thought the university environment would prove to be just a pleasant diversion from the seedier aspects of his profession. As it turns out the academic closets are bulging with skeletons, but not the one that Croft is looking for. Still it is an alarming development when three rather large men in stocking masks catch him in the dark parking lot of his hotel with the intention of giving him a serious going over. Croft knows he is a bit of smart aleck but does three goons fit the crime?

To the academic that tries to crush his hand.

”He mauled my fist again, but this time I gave him a little something in return. In the right circumstance, I can be as dopey as the next guy.
The grin only widened. He released his grip, looked me up and down appreciatively, and said, ‘You’re in pretty good shape. You work out? Martial arts?’
‘A little origami on the weekends.’

Really is that goon worthy? Or does this all have something to do with those old bones?

After a fortuitous interruption to the the snapping of his limbs and the rearrangement of his face Croft finds himself on a desperate run from El Paso to Santa Fe to the Arizona reservation to get ahead of the bodies that are beginning to pile up. 

I adore Santa Fe as do most people who get the opportunity to visit. This book brought back a lot of the memories of reading Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn series while I was in college in Arizona. Joshua Croft finds himself traversing much of the same terrain as the heros of the Hillerman series. His wisecracks remind me of the Spencer character from the Robert B. Parker series. I didn’t mention that Croft’s boss is the beautiful Rita who is confined to a wheelchair. She had been shot sometime before the series started and the bullet paralyzed her legs. Croft is in love with her and the dynamics of the one sided relationship add some interesting overtones to the plot. 

The first book in the series is Wall of Glass and I do believe I enjoyed this one better than the first one. Always a good sign when the books get better. Overall I have to say I was pleasantly surprised considering it was just suppose to be a mild diversion from a stressful week.