Winner of the first annual Tony Hillerman Prize for best mystery debut set in the Southwest.
First Melissa Baca, a teacher at the Burroway Academy, is pitched off New Mexico’s Taos Gorge Bridge. Then elderly Patsy Burke, who heard two policemen discussing the death over her scanner and called the tip in to the Capital Tribune, is strangled in her home. Tribune editor Lucy Newroe, feeling bad about shirking her EMT volunteer work, piles more guilt on herself for paying only cursory attention to “Scanner Lady.” When she checks the newsroom scanners, there’s no record of cops talking. Detective Sergeant Gilbert Montoya of the Santa Fe Police, alerted to drug paraphernalia surrounding Melissa by Officer Manny Cordova, thinks there’s little chance the cases are related. But as Lucy pesters him, alibis disintegrate, and the Burroway principal turns out to be keeping some unsavory secrets of his own. Meanwhile, Melissa’s mom, blaming herself for one son’s death and mourning the murder of the daughter who replaced him, drives her other son, ignored and desperate for attention, to one of her bridge-playing foursome for solace. By the time Montoya and Lucy understand how that two-man conversation reached only one scanner, another Baca family member has died, a cop has hit the skids and Lucy has gone reluctantly on one more EMT call.
The Santa Fe landscape and ethnicities are well handled, and the scanner denouement is a neat surprise. Though Barber isn’t yet up to bearing the Hillerman mantle, her debut offers reason enough to anticipate a sequel.