My new novel, The Castle, which will be released by TouchPoint Press on September 13, 2021, takes place in Arizona’s Verde Valley. The site is an ancient Native American pueblo that perches high on a cliff, a multi-story edifice whose history remains unclear.
What we do know is that The Castle was abandoned by those who resided there about 600 years ago. Today, we call these people Sinagua, which means “without water,” but we have no idea how they referred to themselves. There are no written records from that time. But objects left behind—stone metates for grinding corn, needles for sewing, shell ornaments, pottery, and stone tools—identify the Sinagua as skilled artisans and ardent traders. And, of course, The Castle itself proves they were exceptionally talented builders. Imagine cutting the massive Arizona sycamores and carting them up the cliff face without the benefit of metal tools. And once built, a process archaeologists believe began in the early 1100s, The Castle had to be constantly maintained due to the damaging assault of desert wind, rain, and heat.
When Europeans first arrived in the Verde Valley, they found The Castle abandoned and quite mysterious. With little expertise in regard to southwestern indigenous people, the early settlers assumed that Aztec emperor Montezuma was somehow involved in the building of the edifice. The idea, of course, was nonsensical, since Montezuma was born over 300 years after the construction at The Castle began. Still the name stuck. So today when you visit, you’ll note the edifice and the 860 acres surrounding the building is called Montezuma Castle National Park.
Upon entering the Visitor Center, tourists will encounter a life-size cut out of President Teddy Roosevelt, resplendent in his bush hat and wired spectacles. Why? Roosevelt was instrumental in saving The Castle from destruction. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Native American artworks became highly prized worldwide. Archaeological sites were ransacked by those seeking a fortune in ancient pottery and jewelry, and the abundance of foot traffic and unrestrained digging were quickly degrading the areas. So, on December 8, 1906, Roosevelt signed the National Antiquities Act and Montezuma Castle became one of the first four sites in the country to come under federal protection. Then, in 1966, The Castle was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Why place The Castle at the center of a novel about a woman being stalked by a rapist? While the location is jaw-droppingly gorgeous, just off the safety of the trails, the Sonoran Desert reigns. One of the most complex ecosystems on the planet, this sub-tropical desert is filled with both unparalleled beauty and impending danger. Treacherous plants and animals, as well as hazardous terrain mix with extreme weather that can quickly prove lethal. Just as in life, beauty and terror can often exist side by side. It’s how we negotiate our environment that matters.
Ancient ruins, haunted memories, and a ruthless criminal combine with a touch of mystic presence in this taut mystery about a crime we all must address.
Contemporary Women’s Fiction/Suspense
September 13, 2021
Maggie, a National Park Ranger of Native American descent, is back at The Castle—a six-hundred-year-old pueblo carved into a limestone cliff in Arizona’s Verde Valley. Maggie, who suffers from depression, has been through several traumas: the gang rape she suffered while in the Coast Guard, the sudden death of her ten-year-old son, and a suicide attempt.
One evening, she chases a young Native American boy through the park and gasps as he climbs the face of The Castle cliff and disappears into the pueblo. When searchers find no child, Maggie’s friends believe she’s suffering from depression-induced hallucinations.
Maggie has several men in her life. The baker, newcomer Jim Casey, who always greets her with a warm smile and pink boxes filled with sweet delicacies. Brett Collins, a scuba diver who is doing scientific studies in Montezuma Well, a dangerous cylindrical depression that houses strange creatures found nowhere else on Earth. Dave, an amiable waiter with whom she’s had a one-night stand, and her new boss Glen.
One of these men is a serial rapist and Maggie is his next target.
In a thrilling and terrifying denouement, Maggie faces her rapist and conquers her worst fears once and for all.
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