A Gulf War veteran seeks to expose an 1859 surveying error that allowed Texas to snatch more than a half-million acres from New Mexico.
In his 10th book, Santa Fe author Claffey (Morgan Bluestone, 2013, etc.) tells a plainspoken story. Gordon Meese is a New Mexico war veteran and recreational pilot consumed by the injustice that neighboring Texas, back in 1859, took advantage of an inaccurate geographical survey to stage a territorial “land grab,” helping itself to a narrow strip along the 103rd meridian line that contains more than 600 thousand acres—some of which are now valuable oil wells. (Claffey reproduces the documents in question to show unacquainted readers that this is no mere literary invention.) At one point, Gordon explains: “In my mind, the state of Texas is guilty of violating New Mexico’s border by asserting that no surveying error ever occurred.” Meanwhile, Gordon and a rancher acquaintance, Ty Daggett, are transfixed by a new woman in town, beautiful nurse Alysa Cody, who is working at the local hospital but rudderless after a divorce from her cheating husband. To Gordon, she reminds him of the lost love of his life, who left him for a more comfortable existence in the East. Ty has been a heartsick cowpoke in the 20 years since the girl he adored followed through with her pledge to join a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, convent. Dialogue in this short novel sometimes has a tendency to be baldly expository, and there isn’t a great deal to the plot, as Gordon simply backs off from the incipient conflict of a love triangle to pursue his quixotic cause. Indeed, but for brief mentions of cellphones or the Gulf War (“When boundaries are violated, there are consequences. Ask Saddam Hussein about his violation of Kuwait’s border in 1991”), the lean yet easygoing narrative could have taken place at practically any time during the last half of the 20th century. The tale evinces a bluesy-comic undertone that doesn’t belabor itself with excess folksiness or contrived whimsy.
A pleasant weekend-getaway read with a quixotic hero and a casual Southwestern flavor.