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Picnic in the Ruins
by Todd Robert Petersen




Overview -
Part mystery; part quirky, darkly funny, mayhem-filled thriller; and part meditation on what it means to 'own' land, artifacts, and the narrative of history in the West . . . A fast-paced, highly entertaining hybrid of Tony Hillerman and Edward Abbey. --Kirkus Reviews

Anthropologist Sophia Shepard is researching the impact of tourism on cultural sites in a remote national monument on the Utah-Arizona border when she crosses paths with two small-time criminals. The Ashdown brothers were hired to steal maps from a collector of Native American artifacts, but their ineptitude has alerted the local sheriff to their presence. Their employer, a former lobbyist seeking lucrative monument land that may soon be open to energy exploration, sends a fixer to clean up their mess. Suddenly, Sophia must put her theories to the test in the real world, and the stakes are higher than she could have ever imagined.

What begins as a madcap caper across the RV-strewn vacation lands of southern Utah becomes a meditation on mythology, authenticity, the ethics of preservation, and one nagging question: Who owns the past?

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Overview

Part mystery; part quirky, darkly funny, mayhem-filled thriller; and part meditation on what it means to 'own' land, artifacts, and the narrative of history in the West . . . A fast-paced, highly entertaining hybrid of Tony Hillerman and Edward Abbey. --Kirkus Reviews

Anthropologist Sophia Shepard is researching the impact of tourism on cultural sites in a remote national monument on the Utah-Arizona border when she crosses paths with two small-time criminals. The Ashdown brothers were hired to steal maps from a collector of Native American artifacts, but their ineptitude has alerted the local sheriff to their presence. Their employer, a former lobbyist seeking lucrative monument land that may soon be open to energy exploration, sends a fixer to clean up their mess. Suddenly, Sophia must put her theories to the test in the real world, and the stakes are higher than she could have ever imagined.

What begins as a madcap caper across the RV-strewn vacation lands of southern Utah becomes a meditation on mythology, authenticity, the ethics of preservation, and one nagging question: Who owns the past?

 

Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781640093225
  • ISBN-10: 1640093222
  • Publisher: Counterpoint LLC
  • Publish Date: January 2021
  • Page Count: 336
  • Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.88 pounds


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BookPage Reviews

Whodunit: January 2021

A missing laptop, a treasure map and two bizarre murders await in this month's Whodunit column.

Bryant & May: Oranges and Lemons

Author Christopher Fowler’s Peculiar Crimes Unit investigates exactly what you’d expect: cases that are far from your everyday, humdrum homicide. But as Bryant & May: Oranges and Lemons—the latest entry in the popular series—opens, it appears that the unit will close up shop, having fallen victim to budgetary cuts and some remarkably public blunders. The chief will tend his garden on the Isle of Wight, while one detective chief inspector is barely clinging to life in the hospital and the other has dropped off the radar completely. But then the Speaker of the House of Commons (the U.K. analog of Nancy Pelosi) is nearly killed by a falling crate of oranges and lemons. This would have been written off as an accident, save for the fact that it took place within spitting distance of the Church of St. Clement’s, of nursery rhyme fame (“Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement’s”). Thus, the incident appears to fall directly within the purview of the Peculiar Crimes Unit, which is quickly confirmed by more nursery rhyme-themed crimes. As is the case with other books in the series, the setup is improbable (bordering on bizarre), the characters droll, the prose exceptionally clever and often hilarious and the “aha” moment deliciously unexpected.

The Butterfly House

Scandinavian mystery novels enjoy such constant appreciation from suspense fans worldwide that they’ve become an established subgenre unto themselves, with no signs of flagging. Danish writer Katrine Engberg hit the scene in 2020 with her critically acclaimed bestseller, The Tenant, and as 2021 opens, she returns with The Butterfly House. The Copenhagen police are summoned to a rather macabre display: A young woman has been found in a fountain, her body completely exsanguinated. It is clearly a murder, which is bad enough in its own right, but when another body is found the following day, also drained of blood, also in a fountain, it becomes starkly clear that a serial killer is at large. The case falls to Investigator Jeppe Kørner, one of the two protagonists of The Tenant. The other, Kørner’s partner Anette Werner, is on maternity leave at the moment, but that won’t stop her from taking part in the investigation. Engberg has crafted a fine police procedural. She is an author to look out for, one who will be cited years hence as a key player in Nordic noir.

Picnic in the Ruins

Picture a Tony Hillerman-style tableau: a red rock desert beneath a deep azure sky, imbued with the history of the sacred rituals and artifacts of the Southern Paiute. Now add a Tim Dorsey or Carl Hiaasen-esque overlay, awash in desiccated Ford pickup trucks, characters who embody the word “characters,” ulterior motives and belly-rumbling hilarity, and you’ll get an idea of the strange trip you’re about to embark on in Todd Robert Petersen’s Picnic in the Ruins. We open with a bungled burglary that would have been screamingly funny for its ineptitude if not for its deadly outcome. Now the perps are on the lam, treasure map in hand, with the really bad guys—the smarter criminals—in hot pursuit. Other assorted protagonists include an anthropology Ph.D. candidate banished to the wilds of Utah, a somewhat shady government dude, a German tourist on some sort of personal quest (Old West folklore is huge in Europe) and a cast of off-the-grid “desert rats” who add big yucks at every turn. Beneath all this, Petersen poses some intellectual questions, such as who really “owns” land, what rights and responsibilities such ownership conveys and how the inevitable collisions between titled owners, the public good and the ancient claims of sacred ground should be addressed.

★ Someone to Watch Over Me

Reboots of major suspense series after the death of the author have been a mixed bag at best; witness, for example, the hit-and-miss follow-ups to Ian Fleming’s books featuring MI6 superspy James Bond. But some series nail the reboot from the get-go, and Ace Atkins’ continuation of Robert B. Parker’s franchise featuring mononymous Beantown private investigator Spenser and his lethal sidekick, Hawk, falls firmly into the latter category. Someone to Watch Over Me finds the ace sleuth conscripted into retrieving a laptop from an exclusive Boston men’s club. Spens er’s client is his own young protege, Mattie Sullivan, who is building an investigation business of her own. Mattie has correctly surmised that her boss will carry a great deal more authority in demanding the return of the computer amid the club’s misogynistic all-male milieu. But as often happens in mystery novels, a seemingly simple initial task explodes into something exponentially more complicated, here threatening to link a loosely knit cabal of high-ranking socialites and politicians to a human trafficking organization operating offshore in a remote and private Bahamian island. Needless to say, these people will stop at nothing to save their reputations and their livelihoods, and it will take all of Spenser’s considerable talents to stay one step ahead.

 

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