In D.S. Milne’s third novel, a widowed adventurer named Jack Collins, a footloose, half-Navajo sage called Timco (aka Cameron Yellow Fox Arnfinn) and a black hound dog they’ve rescued from the roadside end up in the small town of Estancia al Cabo, New Mexico. The men soon get involved in a dig at a long-forgotten pueblo that turns out to be of major, multicultural significance; meanwhile, the dog cadges kitchen scraps at the local cafe. In the end, Yellow Fox reclaims his lost Native American heritage, as sturdy Jack drives his pickup off into the sunset.
A rural Coloradan, the author displays a convincing grasp of the hard, sun-baked realities of the Southwest (Jack says folks back East are “snot-noses”). He also has a McMurtryesque gift for local characters: a boozy archaeologist named Doc, a small rancher called Large Ruby, and Naomi, the world-wise proprietor of a seedy cathouse. Milne also provides a supporting cast big enough to swamp the entire village–assorted Indians bursting with tribal lore, hard-working Basques, some saddle tramps and gossips, even a detective imported from Baton Rouge. It’s all nicely atmospheric.
Marring the book’s readability, however, are grammatical errors (the author needs a reminder that the possessive adjective “its” and the conjunction “it’s” are different critters), and Milne’s prose can be, by turns, hard to follow, showy or awkward–sometimes all three at once. (For example, his description of the “almost baroque-like style” of a cafÃ© or this lament by one of the heroes: “Yellow Fox was tired of floundering around like a flounder–although he wasn’t exactly certain which one of the over one hundred species of flounder applied to his dilemma.”)
Despite such drawbacks, you can practically smell the refritos cooking here and can’t help but feel the irresistible tug of the New Mexico desert.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.