No place like home

AU­THOR KEVIN WOLF

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Jen­nifer Levin I The New Mex­i­can

Au­thor Kevin Wolf, win­ner of the 2016 Tony Hiller­man Prize

IN 1992, Chase Ford was a hand­some and pop­u­lar high school bas­ket­ball star in the tiny town of Bran­don, Colorado, dat­ing Mercy Say­lor, the pret­ti­est girl in Co­manche County. They both left town for more than 20 years — Mercy to a mar­riage that de­te­ri­o­rated over time, and Chase to a pro­fes­sional bas­ket­ball ca­reer that ul­ti­mately left him in­jured and heart­bro­ken — but now they’ve re­turned, how­ever re­luc­tantly, to face their pasts in The Home­place: A Mys­tery (Mino­taur/ St. Martin’s Press), by Kevin Wolf. As Chase and Mercy re­con­nect with each other and their old friends Marty and Birdie, there is a sud­den rash of mur­ders in town, and Chase’s former bas­ket­ball-court neme­sis, Lin­coln Ken­dall — now Sher­iff Ken­dall — is in charge of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Wolf, win­ner of the 2016 Tony Hiller­man Prize, reads from his novel on Thurs­day, Sept. 22, at Col­lected Works Bookstore.

“I wanted a stranger to come back to town,” Wolf said of build­ing his male pro­tag­o­nist. “He had to have money that he’s been wise with, so he’s not tied down, and then I heaped on the fam­ily back­ground and his doubts about re­turn­ing. He doesn’t know if peo­ple think of him as a high school hero or as a fail­ure.”

The Home­place is a mys­tery novel that con­tains el­e­ments of a Western. The land, the weather, hunt­ing, and the town of Bran­don op­er­ate al­most like char­ac­ters in the story, and un­like many genre mys­ter­ies, the novel has no would-be ama­teur de­tec­tive try­ing to solve the mur­ders. Chase turns out to have con­nec­tions to the vic­tims, so Ken­dall thinks he’s in­volved. Wolf toys with sev­eral small-town stereo­types in The

Home­place, such as the idea that every­one knows every­one else’s busi­ness, and he in­fuses Bran­don with a dark side.

“I think ev­ery­body has an im­age of what a small town is, but maybe small towns aren’t as in­no­cent as we want to be­lieve they are. Eastern Colorado is the part of the state peo­ple drive through or fly over so they can get to Denver and go ski­ing or go on va­ca­tion in the moun­tains. It’s kind of an over­looked place,” Wolf said. “My great-grand­par­ents were home­stead­ers in Kit Car­son, Colorado, and I still have fam­ily and con­nec­tions in that area. I go there ev­ery fall dur­ing hunt­ing sea­son, and I’ve seen how the town has changed over time. There were three gas sta­tions, and now there’s just one with a credit-card ma­chine and no at­ten­dant. There were four restau­rants, and now there’s just one. You have an as­sisted liv­ing fa­cil­ity for the ag­ing pop­u­la­tion that has stayed close to their farms, and there’s a tran­sient pop­u­la­tion that comes and goes for jobs with the oil and gas com­pany. I tried to get some of that in the story — to show the boarded-up build­ings.”

Mercy has come home to run the fam­ily diner — her mother has gone into el­der care. Serv­ing ham and eggs to farm­ers and ranch­ers is not the life she

The Home­place is a mys­tery novel that con­tains el­e­ments of a Western. The land, the weather, hunt­ing, and the town of Bran­don op­er­ate al­most like char­ac­ters in the story.

en­vi­sioned for her­self, and she sees Chase’s home­com­ing as an op­por­tu­nity to rekin­dle an old flame. She pines for him, mak­ing sure she al­ways looks her best when she thinks she’ll see him — or when she thinks Ken­dall will be around. The mar­ried Ken­dall, who con­sid­ers him­self some­thing of a Casanova, is open to the amorous ad­vances of pretty women. Chase, still reel­ing from his own di­vorce, in­tends to reckon with his fam­ily’s land and his child­hood home, which has been sit­ting undis­turbed since his fa­ther’s death. (Big Paul was a brute Chase hated so much that he didn’t come back to Bran­don for his fu­neral.)

High school friend Marty is a deputy work­ing under Sher­iff Ken­dall. Chase’s ar­rival, in com­bi­na­tion with

the mur­ders, in­spires the teenage dare­devil in him. Marty and Chase have a shared catch­phrase for when they know they are do­ing some­thing stupid but brave — “go­ing East­wood” — that gets de­ployed at a few key mo­ments in the story. Birdie Hawkins, Chase’s dowdy fe­male best friend, is a game war­den who knows the prairie like the back of her hand. Though she has hated Ken­dall for most of her life, she winds up hav­ing to take or­ders from him when he sends her to hunt down Ray-Ray Jack­son, an anti­estab­lish­ment sur­vival­ist armed with a big gun. Wolf mod­eled Ray-Ray af­ter a man he met when he was on a hunt­ing trip.

“Ray-Ray was born about 150 years too late. He would have been a moun­tain man or a buf­falo hunter or a cat­tle-driv­ing cow­boy, happy to take care of what­ever task he had in front of him. He’s out of place in this land with rules and laws. The man I met had a beard and ragged clothes, and he was driv­ing this old pickup truck. One of the first things he said to me was ‘I live in a teepee.’ He had a piece of land that he farmed, and he did odd jobs. I added the sur­vival­ist stuff to the book.”

The Home­place is Wolf’s first pub­lished novel. He has made his liveli­hood in the sale of man­u­fac­tured steel prod­ucts, in­clud­ing school lock­ers; he vis­its dis­trib­u­tors through­out the Rocky Moun­tain re­gion, in­clud­ing Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Ari­zona, Idaho, Wy­oming, Mon­tana, and parts of Texas. He started writ­ing se­ri­ously in 2003, though once he started work­ing on a man­u­script, he re­al­ized he didn’t have a firm foun­da­tion in the el­e­ments of story. He threw him­self into his new en­deavor — tak­ing classes, join­ing the Rocky Moun­tain Fic­tion Writ­ers, at­tend­ing con­fer­ences, get­ting in­volved with cri­tique groups, and en­ter­ing re­gional writ­ing con­tests. He signed with an agent in 2010. He is con­sid­er­ing writ­ing a sec­ond novel about Chase and Birdie, and he has com­pleted an­other mys­tery set in the Colorado moun­tains. He re­cently signed a two­book deal with a small press for a pair of sto­ries set in a Colorado min­ing town in the 1880s. “They are tra­di­tional-voiced West­erns, with the stranger who ar­rives in town — a dis­graced news­pa­per reporter, down on his luck. The lo­cal pa­per gives him a try­out, and the first thing they have him write about is a mur­der that’s hap­pened in this lit­tle town. There’s some para­nor­mal stuff, some bump-in-the-night stuff,” Wolf con­tin­ued, ex­tend­ing the de­scrip­tion far afield of a tra­di­tional Western. “In­stead of end­ing with gun­fight at high noon, it takes place at mid­night, and the six-shooter is loaded with sil­ver bul­lets.”

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