The best mystery novels about the American Southwest

Carl and Jane Bock Author Of Day of the Jaguar: An Arizona Borderlands Mystery
By Carl and Jane Bock

Who are we?

Deserts are inherently mysterious places. This likely explains why so many good mystery novels have been set in them. We spent better than forty years doing field work in the American Southwest, and we have found mystery novels based in this region among the very best. All good mystery novels must have strong plots and memorable characters, but to us an equally important component is setting. Jane is a botanist with expertise in the use of plant evidence in solving murder cases. Carl is a vertebrate zoologist and conservation biologist. Upon retirement we began writing mysteries. Some are set in the desert grasslands of Arizona, and all are inspired by the southwestern authors we have selected as our favorites.     


We wrote...

Day of the Jaguar: An Arizona Borderlands Mystery

By Carl and Jane Bock,

Book cover of Day of the Jaguar: An Arizona Borderlands Mystery

What is our book about?

There are killers at large on the high plains of southern Arizona, and some of them are human. When the owner of a nature preserve is murdered along with her foreman, Deputy Sheriff Calvin Creede searches for a motive. Was it because both victims were helping border crossers find their way north, or was there a dark secret about the preserve both died trying to protect? In our fourth and most recent book in this series, Creede must root out corruption, greed, and pure evil in order to solve the case. The largest feline predator in the New World watches it all from high in her mountain lair, aloof, until finally she is driven to her own special revenge.  

The books we picked & why

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The Blessing Way: A Leaphorn & Chee Novel

By Tony Hillerman,

Book cover of The Blessing Way: A Leaphorn & Chee Novel

Why this book?

When we first discovered Tony Hillerman’s books, we nearly lost a whole summer’s fieldwork because we couldn’t stop reading them. In our opinion, no fiction author has better captured both the haunting physical beauty and cultural traditions of the Navajo Nation. Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn of the tribal police is more pragmatic than his fellow officers Jim Chee and Bernadette Manuelito, who bring a more spiritual side to their work. The Blessing Way is the first of this long-running series, which is being carried on by Anne Hillerman. In this first book, the police find a corpse so far out in the desert and so wrapped in mystery as to shake even Leaphorn’s belief that everything has a rational explanation. Hillerman inspired us to try writing mystery novels of our own, although we don’t pretend to have achieved his level of mastery.  

The Blessing Way: A Leaphorn & Chee Novel

By Tony Hillerman,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Blessing Way as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Don’t miss the TV series, Dark Winds, based on the Leaphorn, Chee, & Manuelito novels, now on AMC and AMC+!  

“Brilliant…as fascinating as it is original.”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch

From New York Times bestselling author Tony Hillerman, the first novel in his series featuring Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn & Officer Jim Chee who encounter a bizarre case that borders between the supernatural and murder

Homicide is always an abomination, but there is something exceptionally disturbing about the victim discovered in a high, lonely place—a corpse with a mouth full of sand—abandoned at a crime scene seemingly devoid of tracks or useful clues.…


Concrete Desert: A David Mapstone Mystery

By Jon Talton,

Book cover of Concrete Desert: A David Mapstone Mystery

Why this book?

David Mapstone is a failed PhD academic who comes home to Phoenix, Arizona, where an old friend with the sheriff’s department takes pity and finds him a job solving cold cases. It turns out he’s good at it, but he is less successful in coping with the urban sprawl that has nearly obliterated the best parts of his hometown. In Concrete Desert, the first in Talton’s series, Mapstone reconnects with an old flame when she asks him to solve the mystery of her missing sister. While doing so, he stumbles on an eerie connection with an unsolved mystery from forty years earlier. We especially liked this book and the whole series because of the author’s skillful depiction of the old and the new, and the best and the worst, of a city in the process of gobbling up an American desert. 

Concrete Desert: A David Mapstone Mystery

By Jon Talton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Concrete Desert as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At loose ends, David Mapstone gets an assignment from a friend in the sheriff's office - go through the old "unsolved" files and clear them out one way or another. David doesn't expect to find any connection to the present or anything personal in any of these ancient cases. But when an old girlfriend turns up at his door asking him to help find her missing sister and the sister is later found murdered. David is atonished to see that her killing so closely parallels a 40-year-old case that it cannot be a coincidence.


Desert Heat

By J. A. Jance,

Book cover of Desert Heat

Why this book?

Joanna Brady finds herself elected sheriff of Cochise County, Arizona, after her husband dies while campaigning for the same job. In this first book of the series, Sheriff Brady must clear her husband’s name of some ugly rumors while simultaneously searching for his killer. Joanna’s life is a complicated one, balancing motherhood and ranching on a small scale, while managing a sheriff’s department not used to having a woman at the helm. Add to the mix an unsympathetic mother-in-law and (later in the series) a new husband, and you have a protagonist constantly on the edge of chaos. We like this series especially for the author’s skill at portraying the way Brady manages her complicated life, while also evoking the environment and history in and around the former mining town of Bisbee. 

Desert Heat

By J. A. Jance,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Desert Heat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Her obsessive hunt for a killer threatens to place both Joanna and her nine year old daughter Jenny in serious jeopardy. Because, in the desert, the truth can be more lethal than a rattlesnake's bite.


Heartshot: A Posadas County Mystery

By Steven F. Havill,

Book cover of Heartshot: A Posadas County Mystery

Why this book?

Bill Gastner is the sort of detective you’d expect to find working the mean streets of an inner city: a rumpled overweight insomniac addicted to coffee and cigarettes. Instead his beat is the Chihuahan Desert of a fictitious county on the border between New and Old Mexico. In Heartshot, Undersheriff Gastner must solve multiple murders related to the illegal drug trade, including the loss of a fellow officer. The killer turns out to be somebody nearly as surprising and dangerous as the place where Gastner finds him. In his first book in the Posadas County series, author Havill skillfully brings to life both the rewards and challenges of life in a harsh yet beautiful place, where the people of two cultures are trying to figure out ways to live with one another.

Heartshot: A Posadas County Mystery

By Steven F. Havill,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Heartshot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First book in the Posadas County Mystery Series
When a series of crimes disrupts the tranquil community in Posadas County, New Mexico, a group of small-town cops will have to fight for their lives to keep the county safe
Posadas County, New Mexico, has very few mean streets and no city-slick cop shop. But it has an earnest, elected County Sheriff and his aging Undersheriff-William C. Gastner. Pushing sixty, widower Bill has no other life than in law enforcement-and doesn't want one, even if he's being nudged gently toward retirement. Then big time trouble strikes.
A car full of teens,…


Wall of Glass: A Joshua Croft Mystery

By Walter Satterthwait,

Book cover of Wall of Glass: A Joshua Croft Mystery

Why this book?

On the surface at least, Santa Fe is an artsy place full of elegant and sophisticated people. Private investigator Joshua Croft is none of these things, but he does know his way around town. His partner Rita Mondragon is older and wiser and better connected than Joshua. She’s also rather mysterious. Together they solve cases that either have baffled the local police or were of no particular interest to them. In Wall of Glass, the first in the series, a jewelry theft followed quickly by two seemingly unrelated murders draw the pair into the dark world of contraband art and artifacts. We particularly like this series for the complex and nuanced relationship between the two protagonists, and for the ways in which the author captures both the physical and cultural environment of one of America’s oldest cities. 

Wall of Glass: A Joshua Croft Mystery

By Walter Satterthwait,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Wall of Glass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the first book of a “promising” Southwestern mystery series, a Santa Fe PI’s search for a stolen necklace leads to drugs, pornography, and murder (The New York Times Book Review).
 
As an associate at Santa Fe’s Mondragon Detective Agency, Joshua Croft has heard a lot of strange proposals. But nothing stranger than when a cowboy comes in and asks him to help fence a stolen $100,000 necklace. Thinking he has a deal with Croft, the cowboy leaves as mysteriously as he arrived. The next day he turns up dead, riddled with bullets, and the insurance company that already settled…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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