Books by Judith Van Gieson

CONFIDENCE WOMAN by Judith Van Gieson
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Feb. 1, 2001

"Too few glimpses of Van Gieson's appealing descriptive powers. And for a librarian, Claire spends less time with her nose in a book than seems at all likely. "
Van Gieson's atmospheric series featuring lawyer Neil Hamel (Ditch Rider, 1998, etc.) tempts readers to follow her to the vibrantly rendered Albuquerque area and take a lover so young he could be called the Kid. She has less success with her other series heroine, divorced research librarian Claire Reynier, whose main interests now are books and avoiding her supercilious boss. After a visit from Evelyn Martin, an old sorority sister, Claire finds her signed first edition of Herman Melville's The Confidence Man missing, along with a batch of her credit cards. Three other sorority sisters also been bamboozled by Evelyn now loom large as suspects when her badly decomposing body turns up. Who killed her: Ginny, who drinks too much? Elizabeth, who never met a woman she didn't compete with, even her second husband's daughter? Lynn, who could be the poster child for tranquility? And what about Miranda, driven by her roommate Evelyn's shenanigans from college to television stardom and a husband who plays around? Trying to clear herself, Claire drives from Santa Fe to Cave Creek, Arizona to Albuquerque interviewing the sisters—except for Miranda, who's off in Mexico filming—or is she? The Melville pops up (or does it?), and with the help of a friendly bookseller and a tolerant cop, Claire sets up a sting that resolves a case of authorial misdirection. Read full book review >
DITCH RIDER by Judith Van Gieson
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Sept. 1, 1998

Though she'd never say so herself, Neil Hamel is a ditch rider, one of the people who weed the irrigation ditches that crisscross Albuquerque and who try to keep people from falling in. Neil's charge this time is Cheyanne Moran, a hard-case 13-year-old on the scene when teen gang-banger Juan Padilla is shot to death near one of the ubiquitous ditches. Even though the D.A.'s office has a witness who identifies the shooter as rival gang member Ron Cade, Cheyanne tells Neil she pulled the trigger. And despite everything Neil can do, Cheyanne's bent on giving herself up to the law, serving her two years (the max) in the D Home for juvenile offenders and staking herself out like a target for Juan Padilla's friends in the Fourth Street Originals. It's not surprising that Cheyanne would be so eager to give herself up; as Neil remarks, the D Home, with its steady meals and TV privileges, would be like a summer camp to anybody coming from Cheyanne's broken home (streetwise mother, lover who's not Cheyanne's father, kid brother who's constantly being held up to her as the goody-goody she isn't). But does her willingness to do the time really mean she's guilty? Not much mystery about who shot Juan Padilla, but Neil's clipped, atmospheric narrative, with every moment sliding by as quick as a desert sunset, compensates for it. Van Gieson makes the Albuquerque city limits just as hot as the blazing South Canyon in Hotshots (1996). Read full book review >
HOTSHOTS by Judith Van Gieson
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: July 1, 1996

Furious with grief after her daughter Joni and eight other Duke City Hotshots died fighting a blaze in South Canyon, Nancy Barker wants Albuquerque lawyer Neil Hamel to sue the Forest Service for negligence (inadequate rest and preparation, no weather reports or helicopter surveillance). Her husband Eric's not so sure; after all, more money won't bring back Joni. In the hope of helping them make up their minds, Joni's boyfriend, Hotshot Mike Marshall, offers to take Neil and the Barkers back to the Canyon on a day when the windy weather will approximate conditions during the fire. Horrified, Neil watches another fire spring up in the same way as the first, killing unsympathetic Forest Service spokesperson Tom Hogue and leaving Neil to be rescued by Joni's friend Ramona Franklin, still another Hotshot. Who set South Canyon Two? Neil worries that it might be one of her clients—``Nancy had the rage to start a fire; Eric had the skill''—and worries even more that it might be Ramona, the woman she owes her life to. But nearly everyone in the tightly wound cast—angry environmentalists, overinsured homeowners, firefighters whose recommendations the Service ignored—has a reason for seeing South Canyon burn. Neil's seventh features magnificent backcountry landscapes, all-too-believable fights over their use and protection, and intelligent work by its savvy heroine (Parrot Blues, 1995, etc.). Only the perfunctory mystery itself disappoints. (Regional author tour) Read full book review >
PARROT BLUES by Judith Van Gieson
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: March 1, 1995

Albuquerque corporate raider Terrance Lewellen has good reason to be upset: A kidnapper has grabbed not only his soon-to- be-ex-wife, Deborah Dumaine, who researches parrots at UNM, but also Perigee, one of his prize indigo macaws, whose bereft mate, Colloquy, is a lot more upset than Terrance. (It's a measure of Van Gieson's calm authority, in fact, that Terrance's dry-eyed, mildly annoyed response to Deborah's disappearance is never played for easy laughs.) Convinced that California cowboy Wes Brown, who's tried to sell him smuggled parrots before, has graduated to Class A felony, Terrance wants attorney Neil Hamel (The Lies That Bind, 1993, etc.) to find or ransom Perigee and his human companion, and if possible get the goods on the bad guy. But when Neil treks out to a spectacular desert setting to drop off the biggest ransom that stingy Terrance would agree to, her successful confrontation with dumb-as-dirt Wes Brown is the prelude to a hijacking that leaves her without the money, the macaw, or the missing wife. What to do but hitch a ride back to town and report to Terrance—except that he's now lying dead of allergic shock in the arms of Deborah's half-sister Sara? Sadly, it's all downhill from there, with an intricate web of evidence camouflaging an unconvincing kidnap/murder plot, and a human cast less personable than their fine feathered friends. Maybe Terrance had his priorities right after all. Read full book review >
THE LIES THAT BIND by Judith Van Gieson
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Sept. 1, 1993

Albuquerque damn-the-establishment, marginally solvent lawyer Neil Hamel (The Wolf Path, etc.) finds herself defending aging, vodka-and-Halcion-addicted Martha Conover—the strait-laced, racist mother of her former school chum Cindy—on charges that she intentionally ran over and killed young Argentine ÇmigrÇ Justine Virga on Halloween. Complicating matters is the fact that, three years ago, Justine drove the car that ended the life of Michael- -Justine's lover and Cindy's illegitimate son by the (now) paralyzed Vietnam vet Emilio. Martha's insistence that Justine was murdered by druglords doesn't hold up, but Neil discovers that the Justine had assassinated a sadistic general before fleeing her native country. Furthermore, Cindy's current husband, the unlovable Whit, lost all his assets in S&L shenanigans and now has a scheme or two up his sleeve to recoup his loses—all involving polo- playing Argentineans with bad tempers.... Acid dissection of Albuquerque and Phoenix land-rapes, ethnic makeup, and weather, but an overly complicated plot and, for Van Gieson, surprisingly loose writing.*ju Read full book review >
THE WOLF PATH by Judith Van Gieson
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Feb. 1, 1992

Albuquerque lawyer Neil Hamel (The Other Side of Death, 1991, etc.) usually finds herself embroiled in environmental issues that erupt into murder. And this time—when the wolf that Juan Sololobo uses as part of his education campaign to reintroduce the endangered species to New Mexico is stealthily removed from its cage—Neil has her hands full: angry ranchers screaming that they'll kill the wolf before it decimates their herds; local trackers eager to pinpoint it for rich, jaded hunters; and a feisty client, Juan, soon accused of reckless endangerment, and more— since he becomes the prime suspect when federal biologist Bartell, on the trail of the wolf, is murdered. Reconnoitering among some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet, Neil runs afoul of renegade wolf-breeders, drug traffickers, Mexican illegals, and several warring factions—the Wolf Alliance, the Wildlife Commission, etc.—but, with an assist from lover Kid, she scares off the worst of the bunch. Van Gieson's Southwest is breathtaking, and her mission seems to be to make us appreciate it while developing an environmental consciousness. That she succeeds so well is due, in large part, to her nonhectoring, clear prose and her strong, unsentimental heroine. Smart, involving, informative. The author's best to date. Read full book review >
THE OTHER SIDE OF DEATH by Judith Van Gieson
Released: Jan. 16, 1990

Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone and Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski are, arguably, the two best female investigators in current fiction. Van Gieson's Neil Hamel—tough, unsentimental—on her third case (Raptor, North of the Border) is clearly angling to round out the triumvirate. When Neil drives her too-drunk friend Lonnie home from a party, she accepts a bed for the night and discovers later that Lonnie's skipped out. Then Lonnie is found dead in a cave, and, though everyone screams suicide, Neil's not so sure. Sleuthing her way through the spiritual environs of Dolendo and Sante Fe and the crasser materialism of Albuquerque, Neil uncovers plausible suspects: Rick, Lonnie's love obsession; Marci, Rick's posh new love; mob-connected Jorge Mondragon; New Age pinup girl Ci, and the imperfectly married Malones, all meddlesome friends of Lonnie; and Dolby, the teen-age neighbor with a crush and then some on Lonnie. As the tangled relationships unravel, Neil, too, is endangered. Tart dissection of trendy art colonies, New Age glitz, romantic woes and throes, plus lyrical descriptions of the landscape—all make this a standout. And Neil may actually be more interesting than Kinsey and as staunch as VA.—but with a better love-life. Read full book review >