Author: Sandi Ault
ISBN: 9780425219010/ Berkley Prime Crime, 2008
Genre: Mystery, #1 in the Wild series
First Line: I got there too late to save Jerome Santana.
We first meet Bureau of Land Management resource protection agent Jamaica Wild when she fails to save a man from a buffalo stampede. In short order, the leadership of the Tanoah Pueblo in New Mexico's high desert blames her for starting the stampede and for being on their land during Quiet Time when no visitors are allowed. Jamaica finds herself banned from the pueblo and suspended from her job. Something about Jerome Santana's death doesn't seem right to her and her integrity is at stake, so she decides to investigate.
Ault blends the legends and traditions of several Pueblo cultures to immerse the reader in a very different way of life and to give a very real sense of the high desert of New Mexico. The author also doesn't dodge the difficulties of many Native Americans in today's society:
"She already had her Becomes Woman ceremony and everything, where she had to grind corn for four days and everyone went from house to house singing her name. I went there for the ceremony, and I felt ashamed that there was no father there to sing for her. I missed my people then, and I felt like I lived in three worlds-- my home at Cochiti, my life here, and the modern world we have to live in now in order to survive. It's not easy when you have all that to deal with."
The cultural and physical settings are powerful. The pacing moves right along, and the plot has enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing as to what's really going on, but it was the character of Jamaica Wild herself that grabbed me the most. Jamaica is no greenhorn at living in what can be a very hostile environment. She has caches of gasoline, water and food at various points throughout the land she patrols. She enjoys the company of people, but also values solitude. She's adopted a wolf pup she's named Mountain, and their relationship will ring true for any reader who's had a close connection with an extraordinary animal. An older woman in Tanoah Pueblo is Jamaica's mentor because she truly wants to learn the culture and traditions of the people with whom she works. No matter how strong the action and the plot, Jamaica and Mountain are the true draws of this book, and they are the reason why I'll be reading the other books in this series.
If you've enjoyed the mysteries of Nevada Barr and Tony Hillerman, I think the chances are excellent that you would enjoy this series, too.