Carol Potenza: Hearts of the Missing

This book is the winner of the Tony Hillerman prize and thus has some serious shoes to fill, and it fills them fairly well. Set on the Pueblo, Potenza has created a fictional but believable tribe, the Fire-Sky tribe. She then gives each of her four major characters varying degrees of connection to the tribe. At the center of the story is Sgt. Nicky Matthews, a Pueblo police officer, not native herself.

Her best friend, Savannah Analia, the public safety director’s assistant, is full blood. Then there’s Ryan, who makes jewelery and who grew up with Savannah, but isn’t native. He does however have extensive knowledge and respect for native traditions. And then there’s conservation agent, outsider Frank, who is the uneven piece of this four person puzzle.

While Savannah is full blood, she’s also the one who is skeptical of some native beliefs and it’s actually Nicky who seems to have visions and be connected by some kind of “sight” to the Fire Sky culture. When the book opens, she’s investigating a mini mart break in, and is totally freaked when she sees an old woman in the glass – who then vanishes. She also sees a white rabbit, a sign of death, and that’s what garners the interest of Juanita Benami and her grandson.

Juanita is concerned that her granddaughter, who said she was coming home for the weekend, and whose car is in the driveway, is missing. When the young woman is later discovered as the victim of a “train-pedestrian suicide,” Nicky’s antenna are up. The grieving grandmother is sure she’s a lost soul. Nicky is all for discovering what really happened to the young woman, who was about to graduate from college with a journalism degree, and didn’t appear to be the typical lost addict who ends up in front of a train.

This book is packed. It’s packed full of plot, full of characters, full of setting, and full of the Native culture that the author so clearly loves. The details of that culture are fascinating and by far the strongest part of the novel, seconded by the vibrant characters.

The plot is sometimes a bit over the top – it appears there’s a serial killer at work – but that said, this is a fun read that’s hard to put down. The final action scene is slightly clunky (a first time author problem, and as I read I couldn’t help compare it to the sublime action sequences written by authors like Lee Child and Robert Crais), but those comparisons are perhaps unfair. I actually thought this was a solid first in series set up and the elements of native culture that are included are both haunting and meaningful, a nice balance. I look toward to book two.