Tuesday, April 19, 2016

REVIEW: The Pumpkin Seed Massacre

The Pumpkin Seed Massacre
Author:  Susan Slater

Psychologist Ben Pecos has just returned to his birthplace, the Tewa Pueblo in New Mexico, to intern with the Indian Health Service. He was adopted as a young child, growing up outside the Pueblo. Unfortunately, just as he returns, Tribal elders begin dying from a mysterious illness that kills quickly. Ten tribal members, including Pecos' grandmother, die from the virus. The IHS and an investigative reporter from Albuquerque work together to discover the source of the upper respiratory illness and how to stop it. During their investigation, they discover that the outbreak might not be accidental and that land fraud, murder and greed are behind the deaths.

I enjoyed the descriptions of life in the Pueblo and Tewa traditions. But, the mystery portion of the plot just seemed a bit too contrived.  The virus is spread with tainted pumpkin seeds by men who want to build a casino in the Pueblo. The whole time I was reading I kept thinking to myself that in real life if a tribal elder stood in the way of major criminals there would be an easier way to murder him than to give him a packet of pumpkin seeds tainted with manufactured hantavirus.  The plot wound around and became unnecessarily convoluted because the murder plot itself was ridiculously melodramatic. People with greedy, evil intent don't cook up devious plans to kill people with a virus....they just kill the person outright, or make it look like a simple accident. An over-done murder plan with too many people involved just increases the chances of something going wrong.....and in this case, that's the very thing that happens. Instead of killing only the one tribal elder they wanted dead....they killed 10 people. Then they had to kill more people to cover up the fact that they had killed people. That does help an author round out a 250 page book, but it's obviously fiction and not something that would realistically happen.  I almost stopped reading the book when someone with the IHS called Ben Pecos to tell him that she had found micro-punctures at the base of the pumpkin seeds where something had been injected. It was like bad CSI-style pseudo-science.

The romance angle between Ben Pecos and Julie Conlin, a reporter from Albuquerque, seemed a bit forced to me. It was a bit like the author knew she needed to have some romance in the book so just conveniently dropped in a cute, anglo female reporter and *poof*.... insta-romance! Bit meh on the lovey-dovey portion of the plot, too.

There are two more Ben Pecos mystery novels by Susan Slater. I like the tribal lore and descriptions enough to read the next book. I hope the mystery element is better in the remaining books. That portion of the plot really fell flat for me in this first book. If the second book, Yellow Lies, is as overly melodramatic as this one, I won't read the third and final book of the series.

All in all, this book was ok. I much prefer Tony Hillerman.

My rating: 5/10
Ages: 13+

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