Book Review: Skeleton Picnic

Rolly and Abigail Rogers grew up collecting Indian artifacts during outings euphemistically referred to as skeleton picnics. Over the years, the Rogers amassed an impressive collection of pottery, projectile points, axes, fiber items and more as well as several excellent pieces of native made jewelry. Anxious to get a jump on the competition, the Rogers head off on a dig one spring evening and don’t return. Concerned family members alert authorities about the missing couple but are generally uncooperative due to the nature of their parent’s activities. Bureau of Land Management Ranger J.D. Books and Kane County Sheriff Charley Sutter discover the couple’s home had been burglarized, their valuable collections stolen and the family pet killed. Quite naturally, law enforcement suspects there is a connection between the Roger’s disappearance and the break-in but it isn’t until some jewelry pieces show up at a pawnshop that Books, rookie deputy Beth Tanner and other authorities begin solving the sinister kidnap/murder. As Books contends with family issues including his “father’s” cancer, his mother’s infidelity, a recent divorce and financially strapped relatives, he must teach Tanner the ropes and face down a killer.

Norman’s second J.D. Books mystery is a pleasant, undemanding law enforcement procedural set in the frequently harsh southwest. The evenly paced tale raises ethical questions about pot hunting and lying to potential suspects without digging especially deep or slowing the flow. Books is a good-hearted if slightly dense lead character who’s determination to see justice done is laudable though he fails to recognize a potentially deadly ruse. The motivations and criminal’s identities won’t come as any surprise but it is still a reasonably satisfying conclusion as Books apparently gets to enjoy a quieter life.

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