The best books in southwest mystery fiction with a touch of paranormal and Native American mysticism

R. Lawson Gamble Author Of The Other
By R. Lawson Gamble

Who am I?

I am, and always have been, stimulated by a spiritual connection to my world beyond the laws of physics and men. My hiking, climbing, and trail running have taken me to breathless places imbued with auras and presences I don’t understand but readily accept. And I am filled with the same spirituality when performing or listening to music. I have no ego to shun that which I don’t understand, for I know there is so much beyond me. Some authors describe this intangible better than others in their stories; I hope I am among the former.

I wrote...

The Other

By R. Lawson Gamble,

Book cover of The Other

What is my book about?

They are an unlikely investigative team—an eastern, white FBI agent and a half-breed Navajo Hunting Guide. Agent Zack Tolliver somehow manages to survive his first year in Navajo Nation, a place too hot, too harsh, and too hostile for most of his colleagues. When a young girl’s ravaged body is found dumped on a desolate butte, surrounded by bear tracks, tracks that eventually turn into those of a man, Zack will need all the skill and cultural insights offered by his friend, mentor, and colleague Eagle Feather to solve the case. When the impossible is all that remains, it is all that is possible.

The books I picked & why

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Magpie Speaks: A Navajo Nation Mystery

By R. Allen Chappell,

Book cover of Magpie Speaks: A Navajo Nation Mystery

Why this book?

R. Allen Chappell’s novel resonates with me from the reality of his depiction of life among the Navajo, reflecting his personal familiarity with the people. His protagonists portray diverse, very human characters with all their inherent weaknesses and strengths, tested by the hard life on the Rez. In Magpie Speaks, Charlie Yazzie’s unflappably grounded outlook balances Paul T’Sosi ’s immersive belief in the old ways, a traditional way of thinking that permits the existence of witches who can cause him harm with their supernatural powers. His depiction of Harley Ponyboy, a sometime drunk (“just because I’m drinking now doesn’t make me a drunk”) is both sympathetic and alarming to me. Chappell’s characters are real.

Skinwalkers: A Leaphorn and Chee Novel

By Tony Hillerman,

Book cover of Skinwalkers: A Leaphorn and Chee Novel

Why this book?

I have long been intrigued by the concept of shapeshifters, particularly the Navajo Skinwalker, a practitioner of spiritual arts who can learn to transform into another species while in pursuit of a particular end. I am not alone,  judging from all the ancient legends around the globe. Even today, depictions of shapeshifters are found in literature and on film in many guises. Tony Hillerman takes a deep dive into Navajo lore in this early novel with a close encounter with a suspected “yee naaldlooshii”. Feel the hair rise on your neck!

The Californios: A Novel

By Louis L'Amour,

Book cover of The Californios: A Novel

Why this book?

In this novel, L’Amour explores the ancient spirituality of Native Americans in a tangential way while adhering to his tried and true formula of adventure, lovely women in distress, and brave young heroes.  Finding his mother in despair following the death of his father, and with financial loss looming, Sean and his mother pursue a rumor of treasure buried deep in the mountains beyond his Malibu home. L’Amour paints the mystic “Old Ones” into his story with a movement of bushes here, and a mysterious wind-borne cry there, all within an ambiance of dusky, trembling stillness. Masterful!

The Round House

By Louise Erdrich,

Book cover of The Round House

Why this book?

Louise Erdrich creates an aura of spiritual powers within the sacred space that is the Round House, place of worship for the Ojibwe. Here, thirteen-year-old Joe finds the courage, wisdom, and strength to set out on a path to seek justice for his mother and redemption for himself. The story is a quest for understanding within the traumatic lives and feeling of hopelessness that surround the boy and his people, the focus is a mystery he is driven to solve. Louise’s writing establishes a sense of mysticism and deep timelessness that emanates from the Round House and wisps throughout the novel. It is a sad/joyful mixture almost too difficult to endure.

Riders of the Purple Sage

By Zane Grey,

Book cover of Riders of the Purple Sage

Why this book?

Here is a great classic taking us back in time to southern Utah and the early ranches and Mormon settlements. I love Grey’s perspective on the history of this region. Here, horses are king, and those that ride them are their worshippers. Hero Lassiter falls in love with the lovely, independent ranch owner, Jane Withersteen, who is being stalked by wife-hunting Mormons. But the most compelling part for me is Vetner’s (a second male protagonist) discovery of the hidden redoubt he names Surprise Valley, a forgotten home of ancient cliff dwellers, and described by Grey with all the amygdala-rousing prose at his command. An aura of the supernatural is permanently suspended over this hidden place, and it becomes the centerpiece of the remainder of the novel. That is the stuff I enjoy.

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