Best Reading 2012

Arizona: A History
By Thomas E. Sheridan. University of Arizona Press. 484pp. Index. $50.00.
Bill Broyles almost said it all but I will add that Sheridan turned over multiple stones and burrowed under many more to produce a “must read” for anyone interested in the future of Arizona. []
It is rare that a revised edition can also be a best book pick, but Sheridan’s effort has made his superb first effort into a “must-read” for anyone interested in the history of our state. []
Desert Reckoning: A Town Sheriff, a Mojave Hermit, and the Biggest Manhunt in Modern California History
By Deanne Stillman. Nation Books. 0pp. Index. $26.00.
Nearly a decade ago a week-long manhunt by hundreds of police personnel in the Mojave Desert led to the death of desert-rat, loner and civilization-hater Donald Kueck. He had murdered a local sheriff’s deputy and then gone on the run and into hiding. Stillman’s research and presentation are simply superb. She presents a broad point of view and allows all the major players in the drama to speak for themselves. When we finish reading we may think either “tragedy” or “just-desserts”, but we won’t doubt that we understand who, why, when, where and how. []
In this expansion of her award-winning Rolling Stone article, veteran crime-writer Stillman examines the 2003 murder of a sheriff’s deputy by a recluse in the Mojave Desert north of Los Angeles. Through skillful use of sparse sources and a deep understanding of the history and culture of Southern California, Stillman paints a vivid picture of lives drifting out of control and the desert’s mesmerizing attraction for loners and misfits. Written in luminous prose, this spellbinding book provides a compelling and terrifying look into the violent margins of modern society. []
By James Sallis. Poisoned Pen Press. 147pp. $19.95.
If you read and enjoyed Sallis’ "Drive," or saw the movie about his Hollywood stuntman-turned-getaway driver, this latest is definitely for your reading pleasure. It’s an exciting roller-coaster of a ride through the streets of Phoenix (and briefly, Tucson). The setting is graphically presented and the action is non-stop. The man piloting the car and dodging hitmen is known simply as Driver, and you can put an exclamation point after his name! A must-read for thoughtful fans of action fiction. []
The pursuer becomes the pursued as the Hollywood stuntman-turned-getaway driver Sallis introduced in his 2005 novel, Driver, cruises the freeways and city streets of Phoenix, dodging the killers in his rearview mirror. Seven years have passed since a double-cross transformed Driver into judge, jury, and executioner, and now it’s payback time for the mysterious hit men who dog his trail. There is not a wasted word in this taut thriller as Sallis leads readers on another adrenaline-filled ride through the mean streets of urban America, where cynicism is the coin of the realm and lives spin on the toss of a dime. []
Great Aridness, A: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest
By William deBuys. Oxford University Press. 369pp. Index. $27.95.
William deBuys has seen the future and it isn’t pretty. In this elegant and thoughtful rumination on climate change and its effects on our fragile desert environment, one of the Southwest’s premier environmental writers combines personal observation and interviews with leading scientists to describe where we’ve been and suggest where we may be headed. Taking the long view, he shows how flood, drought, fire and population migrations are recurring storylines that reach back into the ancient past, and cautions that global warming will only accelerate their impact on human habitation. But, deBuys is no doomsday prophet. The great message of his magnificent book is that, with knowledge and foresight, we can avert disaster and learn to live wisely on the land. []
If someone tells you that your home is catching fire and your well is going dry, how would you react? In a series of compelling, insightful interviews, William deBuys carefully explains what the hydrologist, the forester, the archeologist, the rancher, the farmer, and the city planner are warning us about: our arid Southwest climate is becoming warmer and drier. You may have already noticed. But what have you done about it? Why not start by reading this book. []
Hard Country
By Michael McGarrity. Dutton. 624pp. $28.95.
McGarrity, the popular author of a baker’s dozen mysteries featuring former New Mexico sheriff Kevin Kerney, stretches his literary wings in this epic novel of three generations of Kerney men (and one exceptional woman) carving out lives in the unforgiving badlands of West Texas and southern New Mexico. McGarrity has his history down cold, as his compelling fictional characters rub elbows with the likes of Billy the Kid, Albert Fountain, Oliver Lee, Pat Garrett, Albert Fall, Eugene Manlove Rhodes and other notable southwesterners. But the real jewel here is the family saga of flawed men overcoming their limitations in order to hold fast in a hard country. McGarrity once again proves himself a master storyteller. []
This saga of the settling of the Kerney family in the Tularosa Basin covers the years 1875-1918. The title is apt as the characters endure drought, floods, Apache raids, rustlers, financial woes, untimely death of loved ones, two wars, and political skullduggery, all based on what seems to be accurate research. For me the real strength is the characters: John Kerney, who is doggedly determined to provide a future for his son; Patrick, who can’t admit weakness or show emotion; and his wife Emma, equally stubborn. The language flows; the dialogue rings true, all in all an outstanding historical novel. []
Hisat'sinom: Ancient Peoples in a Land Without Water
By Christian E. Downum. SAR Press. 164pp. Index. $24.95.
Until reading this book it has been difficult for me to imagine windswept Wupatki ruin in northern Arizona as a crossroads community, busy and cosmopolitan, but it was. In a series of twenty beautifully written and lushly illustrated chapters, experts tell what life was like before and after the Sunset Crater eruptions nine centuries ago, and how the architecture and culture were influenced from afar by the Hohokam of southern Arizona and the Chaco residents of northwestern New Mexico. It’s a revealing book smoothly done. []

Hisat’sinom is a Hopi word describing the ancient peoples and places in the San Francisco Peaks area beginning some 13 million years ago. This elegantly-produced volume introduces the reader to the people of Walnut Canyon, Homolovi, Wupatki, and many others who, over time, have shared traits borrowed from Chaco Canyon and its great kiva in New Mexico and ball courts from the Hohokam in southern Arizona. Some thirty specialists in numerous fields contributed their expertise to give a new understanding to the connections between the various sites. Superbly designed maps, photographs and illustrations add to the enjoyment of this book.
Shadows on the Mesa: Artists of the Painted Desert and Beyond
By Gary Fillmore. Schiffer Publishing Ltd.. 0pp. Index. $69.99.
This stunning large format art book focuses on artists who loved and took inspiration from the landscapes and people of northern Arizona in the first part of the 20th Century. Most were guests at the Wetherill-Colville Guest Ranch in Kayenta. The author has researched the various artists, painters, cartoonists, authors, and movie icons, and while their stories are fascinating and their art illustrations mesmerizing, what makes this book special is their shared love of this unique land. This is a marvelous collection of work from the still famous to the now obscure men and women who portrayed this amazing Colorado Plateau landscape. []
Don’t open this book if you have a bus to catch, for you’ll be late. It is an enthralling and sumptuous look at the art of artists who stayed at a remote red-rock lodge run by the Wetherills on the Colorado Plateau between 1909 and 1943. The names paint a who’s who of Southwestern art: Maynard Dixon, James Swinnerton, William Robinson Leigh, Carl Oscar Borg, Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton, Marjorie Thomas, Gunnar Widforss, Buck Weaver, Adee Dodge, and dozens more. Not only are the copious paintings and drawings splendidly reproduced, they are accompanied by wonderful stories and anecdotes about the artists and their Navajo and Hopi subjects. It is a grand tour for any reader. []
Virgin of Guadalupe, The: Art and Legend
By John Annerino. Gibbs Smith. 111pp. Index. $21.99.
The author has created a modestly-sized but lavish book focusing on the iconic Black Madonna. Art lovers, students of Mexican history and aficionados of southwestern lore will appreciate this bilingual volume, the largest part of which is given over to photos of various renditions of the Virgin throughout Mexico and the Southwest, some from private collections. The photos are often juxtaposed with famous quotes, such as the patriotic ‘Cry for Independence’ of Father Hidalgo. Annerino gets into the mood of reverence by virtue of his own experience witnessing miraculous stones in a rural Mexican community. This is a beautiful book. []
One of the enduring symbols of the Southwest is the Virgin of Guadalupe, who appears in paintings, statues, tapestries and stained glass windows in nearly every town and village. In a splendid array of color photographs, John Annerino brings us the mystique and the art as never before. His stories ring true, the pages are sumptuous, and both the art and legends will fascinate the curious and the faithful. This may be the most beautifully done Southwest book of 2012. []
With Blood in Their Eyes
By Thomas Cobb. University of Arizona Press. 224pp. $24.95.
Cobb’s clever dialog does not mask the fact that his characters, real historical figures, are crude, sometimes Quixotic, and uneducated men. Based on a 1918 shootout in remote southeastern Arizona, the event itself and the manhunt that followed are often so graphically described that you might think the author had been part of it. But not content to simply describe gruesome events, Cobb provides the background that lets us see how this murderous event came to be. If you like realism in your fiction, this novel is as good as historical fiction gets! []
This historical novel is based on the true story of the Power family of Graham County, AZ, who, in 1918 were assaulted at dawn in their cabin by members of the sheriff’s department. Survivors, two brothers seriously wounded and a hired man, flee to Mexico. The bulk of the action is their heart-stopping journey. Unbelievably, the dialogue among these tough, gritty, uneducated men is lyrical and the characters are clearly differentiated. Cobb reveals what was behind the early morning massacre in flashbacks. This is an absolutely riveting account. []
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