The Butterflies of Grand Canyon by Margaret Erhart, The Penguin Group, 337 pages
Margaret Erhart’s newest novel is part gentle comedy of manners and part murder mystery— though the latter is only a skeleton on which to hang the former, and a skeleton is exactly the problem: the one found in Emery Kolb’s garage, that is. But don’t expect a thriller — the skeleton has been there for 13 years, and no one seems in a hurry to call the police. Because the action— moving roughly at the pace of a mule plodding up the Bright Angel Trail— takes place in Grand Canyon National Park, police may not even be the right word. An aging botanist enamored of her young married assistant solves the rather unconvincing mystery of how the skeleton got there, though she never learns— alas, we do— the even more absurd motive for the crime. It is the 1950s, and Butterflies’ many characters seem to all come in pairs— siblings, spouses, lovers, and friends. Their relationships are the central theme. Original and often amusing dialogue regarding love and its peregrinations casts some charm, as do the butterflies of the title— although they mostly contribute strings of Latin names to the text, while their pursuit provides some comedy. Erhart’s love and knowledge of the setting are palpable, but I sometimes lost patience with her tendency to stack similes like impatient rafters waiting to put in at Lees Ferry, like thunderheads over the desert, like flapjacks on a camper’s plate, like— well, you get the idea.