Here Come the Dead (1945) by Robert Portner Koehler (Pecos Appleby #2)
I looked over the clues I had, and, really, they were kind of staggerin', just to look at a list of them like that. A knife sheath planted behind a picture. An initialed handkerchief dropped at the scene of the crime. A shot fired from an upstairs window. Burned documents. A knife buried at midnight. All I needed was a lipstick-stained cigarette, or a broken cuff-link, to make it all sound like a dime novel. (Pecos Appleby; pp. 152-3)
Pecos Appleby, special investigator with the New Mexico State Police, drops in at San Ysidro to watch the annual corn dance and visit his friend Greta Myron. Greta owns a dude ranch and has brought her guests into town to experience the Native American rituals to bring on rain and honor the spirits of the dead. One more spirit is added to the number when Devoe Fulton, one of the dude ranch guests, is found stabbed to death at the end of the first half of the ceremonies. As Pecos begins to investigate, his attention is drawn to two of the guests who have told obvious lies, but as his investigation progresses he realizes that all six of the guests have been lying. And they all have connections to Fulton and his brother Spencer.
Spencer Fulton was also murdered and Devoe was tried and acquitted of his death. Since his acquittal, Devoe has vowed to find the killer and clear his name. Pecos believes that Devoe gathered all of these people together so he could determine which had killed his brother. It appears that he was getting close--too close for someone's comfort. But with everyone having a possible motive and everyone having an opportunity, will Pecos be able to pin the murder on the villain?
Pecos Appleby is a good, solid detective. His boss would prefer that he grab a likely suspect and get the job done, but Pecos wants to make sure all angles are covered before making an arrest. This exasperates the old-school Chief Brainard who (much like O'Malley in the Lockridge books) thinks the obvious suspect is automatically the guilty party. This adventure is particularly galling to Brainard because everybody has a motive and pretty much everybody had an opportunity and there are clues all over the place that point to various people. It's amusing to watch Pecos deal with his superior--especially when it's obvious that his methods of detection have been highly successful.
There is a great deal of similarity to a certain Agatha Christie mystery--but if Koehler had that particular novel in mind, then he took it and gave it a nifty little twist. [spoiler in ROT13 code*] Va Zheqre ba gur Bevrag Rkcerff, rirelbar qvq qb vg--rkprcg sbe gur Pbhagrff. Naq rssbegf ner znqr gb xrrc ure bhg bs vg. Pyhrf ner yrsg gb vzcyvpngr rirelbar ryfr juvyr gurfr nccnerag fgenatref tvir rnpu bgure fbyvq nyvovf. Urer, vg nccrnef gung rirelbar pbhyq unir qbar vg--naq gurl qryvorengryl rasbepr gung nccrnenapr va beqre gb cebgrpg Zef. Gungpure, jubz gurl nyy oryvrir qvq xvyy Qribr. Ohg tvira gung gurl guvax fur jnf cebibxrq, gurl ner jvyyvat gb zhqql gur jngref naq cerirag ure neerfg. Nf na nqqrq gjvfg....fur qvqa'g qb vg.
I thoroughly enjoyed the twist and found the mystery entertaining. I completely missed the biggest clue even though it was mentioned numerous times. A nice compact mystery with an unexpected ending. ★★★★
*To decode, click this link: ROT13. Copy and paste coded portion into the decoder.
First line: Sunlight on the dried adobe of the plaza was almost blinding to Alice Corbett as she stood leaning against a wall, shading her eyes.
Last line: "Well, they started one, didn't they?" Pecos said with a grin.
Deaths =4 (one stabbed; one shot; two natural)
All challenges fulfilled: Vintage Scavenger Hunt,Mount TBR,Reading by the Numbers,Medical Examiner,Monthly Key Word,Alphabet Soup,Alphabet Soup Authors,Cloak & Dagger,52 Books in 52 Weeks,TBR 23 in '23,Linz the Bookworm RC,Pick Your Poison,Mystery Reporter
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