A witty send-up of antiquarians and academics by Wolfe (The Lake Dreams the Sky, 1998, etc.) combines a dead German anthropologist, a trendy French postmodernist, a Native American pottery forger, and a shady art dealer for a southwestern comedy of errors.
Jack Miller, dealer in Native American artifacts, is in Lacuna Canyon one day when a Ford Taurus drives off the canyon ledge above him and lands a few feet away. Inside are the mortal remains of a German anthropologist, along with a map and journal describing the location of a Mimbre burial site. This is Jack’s lucky day: The Mimbre are an extinct tribe famed for their extraordinary pottery, and, before laws were passed restricting its sale, Jack made good money buying and selling Mimbre pieces. He hurries to the site and discovers an antiquarian’s dream: a tomb filled with rare Mimbre artifacts in perfect condition. When he secretly sends a bone fragment to a local lab for dating estimates, however, all hell breaks loose: The skeleton belongs to a tribe never seen in the region before, providing evidence of prehistoric migrations that archaeologists have been arguing over for decades. The discovery is leaked to Lucy Perelli, director of the Archaeological Preservation Fund, who descends on Lacuna Canyon in a whirlwind, desperate to find the site before anyone else. But she’s not exactly alone, since the French social theorist Henri Bashe, who met her at an Albuquerque conference, insists on coming along—together with the film crew that’s shooting a Reel TV documentary of him. At the palatial home of wealthy art collector Sylvia Siskin, Lucy discovers the Indian art forger Kills the Deer, who worked with Jack in the past and now reluctantly agrees to help Lucy find him. Jack, meanwhile, is trying to figure out how much loot he can get away with before the Treasury Department and State Police track him down.
Subtle, sophisticated fun that will appeal to anyone who has ever suffered through an academic conference—or an episode of Antiques Roadshow.