Michael McGarrity

Kevin Kerney - Chief of Police, Santa Fe, New Mexico

(Jump down to read a review of Under the Color of Law or The Judas Judge or Hermit's Peak)

"The Big Gamble"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark JUL 21, 2002)

"I understand your frustration," Kerney said, stepping to the door.
"No, you don't," she said. "You haven't a clue."

The Big Gamble by Michael McGarrity

Things start off a little different in this latest installation of the Kevin Kerney series. When a fire burns an abandoned building it is Deputy Sheriff Clayton Istee who presides over the investigation, not Kevin Kerney. While investigating the source of the fire, they find two burnt bodies. One is obviously recent, but the other is a skeleton and has been in the building for some time. The second body is identified as Santa Fe resident Anna Marie Montoya who disappeared eleven years earlier and turns out to have been one of Kevin Kerney's unsolved cases from back then. Deputy Paul Hewitt, Istee's boss, makes the decision to let Chief Kerney's department run with the old case, the long shot to be solved. He wants Istee to concentrate on the John Doe investigation, the case most likely to reach closure. Istee reluctantly agrees.

Read excerptClayton Istee is still new to his job, having only left the Mescalero Tribal Police three months earlier. As such he's concerned with making sure that he does a thorough investigation and is quick to berate himself for any mistakes he makes. Also, he's hampered by a "chip on his shoulder" --- he thinks he was hired because he is an Apache and finds it hard to believe that when he receives praise, that it isn't patronizing. For this reason, Istee is a little stiff around his coworkers. True to his personality, the narration of his case investigation reads like he is one step away from writing up his police log. Of course, it's not as terse as a log, that wouldn't be enjoyable. But it does add to this being an excellent police procedural. When Clayton is with his family, he's more conversational; and his wife doesn't let him get away with carrying around that chip.

Anyhow, coming up with and confirming the identity for the John Doe is easy. Even tracking a suspected murderer isn't very difficult, since it looks like the victim won a lot of money at the local casino and was knifed for it. But finding this suspected Ulibarri character is another thing. Istee's case certainly gets more and more interesting as he uncovers the secret gaming parlors and the tie in to a prominent business leader.

Until now, Chief Kerney had been keeping a low profile after his last case (Under the Color of Law) nearly killed him and his wife Sarah. But having the time to concentrate on management issues, Kerney believes, has really paid off. Yet with this old case, he realizes how much flack the Santa Fe office took over the unsolved Anna Marie Montoya case in the past, thus he decides to work on it himself -- not because he can do it better, but so if there is negative press it is directed at him. Basically, Anna's case remained unsolved eleven years ago because Kerney couldn't find a single blemish in her past or motive for anyone to kill her. At least now with the location of the body known, Kerney hopes he can glean some fresh leads.

Though initially it looks like Kerney isn't going to get any further than he did before:

"How's the Montoya case going?"

"I could probably put thirty people on it with the same results," Kerney replied.


"Zilch, but there's still a lot of ground to cover," Kerney said.

Not only must Kerney remain optimistic when he has nothing to work with, he has to be pleasant to Anna's frustrated siblings who are less than kind to him about the police department's futile efforts. As per usual with this series, I am impressed with the mundane work required to investigate a crime, and in this case, a very old crime. Upon one of Anna's siblings mentioning that a "doctor" who just moved back to the area tried to get in touch with Anna, and having no more information than this, Kerney begins a systematic approach to look for this person. Since I'd have no idea how to find someone without a name and address, I found his approach interesting even though his efforts were in vain, which actually lends more credibility to his effort.

With this series, McGarrity has always impressed me with the thoroughness of the investigations, the details of the beautiful landscape and with the character that he's given Kerney. Utilizing the dual investigation, this only gets better. Well, that is if Kerney and Istee could maybe talk.

Whether or not you are new to this series, it doesn't take long to figure out that Clayton Istee is Kevin Kerney's biological son, however, they only recently found out about each other. Clayton has his own issues about this revelation, for the most part feeling shame that he has an Anglo father, making him only half-Apache. Kerney can't figure out how to break through to Clayton. Clayton has a family of his own and Kevin met his two young grandchildren once in the past at which time he generously set them up with college funds. (Kerney inherited a big wad of money in Hermit's Peak.) Clayton reacted badly at this gesture, and feels he's blown it with Kerney. Needless to say, this lack of communication between the two means that they are working on overlapping elements that could have benefited each of them in their respective cases. On the other hand, it's not such a bad story watching the two of them work their separate cases, because we know a little more for it. In fact, accept for one quick scene, which really serves to tidy up a detail, there is no narration that puts us in the mind of the perpetuator(s). We discover along with Kerney and Istee.

I believe this novel can be read out of sequence from the rest of the series. But of course, for those following the series, it does build on what we last knew about Sarah and Kevin's relationship. They have finally located the land for their ranch and are working out the architectural plans. Sarah is more pregnant and her hormones are active. We are left hanging wondering how Sarah is going to manage her military career, motherhood and long-distance marriage. Yup, that's another positive technique that Mr. McGarrity employs in this series. He wraps up the ongoing investigation very nicely, but when we finish one novel we are anticipating the next one just to find out what happens to our favorite characters in their personal lives. You don't have to be much of a gambler to wage on what I'll be doing next July at this exact same time.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 27 reviews
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"Under the Color of Law"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark JUL 29, 2001)

From the 'Lectric Law Library: UNDER COLOR OF LAW - When a person acts or purports to act in the performance of official duties under any law, ordinance, or regulation.

Uner the Color of Law by Michael McGarrity

When Mrs. Phyllis Terrell doesn't show up on the Albuquerque to Washington, D.C. flight, her sister calls the Santa Fe police to ask that they check up on her at home. It's quickly discovered that Mrs. Phyllis Terrell is lying dead, fully dressed, next to the front door with a pair of scissors stuck in her chest. The murdered woman is the estranged wife of a U.S. Ambassador and before newly installed Chief of Police, Kevin Kerney can mount a proper investigation, an FBI anti-terrorism team takes control of the inquiry. Kevin Kerney and special investigator Lieutenant Salvador Molina are shut out as the FBI team sanitizes evidence, highlights Mrs. Terrell's sexual proclivity and finally, present a lover's suicide note which allows them to close the case.

Molina is disappointed, but not too surprised that Kerney goes along with this trumped up story, believing that Kerney is probably just one more ineffectual political appointment, as were Kerney's predecessors. Kerney presents this facade in hopes of keeping the federal investigators from knowing his true activity, for he's decided to conduct his own probe into the case. With key witnesses missing, he's convinced that Special Agent Elaine Applewhite and Special Agent Charlie Perry are committing illegal acts under the color of law. Moreover, he knew Ambassador Terrell back in his army days when Terrell was a brigade commander commonly referred to as the Snake. Kerney doesn't believe that Terrell changed into a better man despite his appointment as ambassador. And we, as the reader, begin to see that Kerney's right, Terrell has some "powerful political voodoo."

All the while that Kerney is dealing with his clandestine investigation, he's also stepping into his new role as Chief of Police. As in his previous novels, McGarrity gives us a real taste for the reality of the job by interspersing the daily routine along with the progress of the investigation and related incidents. For Kevin Kerney this means evaluating members of his new staff, finding a new deputy chief, putting off the political agendas of the town council, as well as taking the advice of his former boss, Andy Baca, by putting on a uniform to strengthen his position with his troops. Not to mention that there's been another murder during his short reign. With everything that goes on during Kerney's long work day, the novel is one nonstop page turning action with a very unsettling storyline.

As Kerney's illicit inquiry proceeds into the Terrell murder, he decides to involve a select few, including Molina. Kerney's wife, Colonel Sara Brannon, also plays a role in the investigation even though they are still maintaining their long distance marriage, which is getting even more difficult now that she is pregnant. By now Kerney has been warned off, put under surveillance, and threatened with reprisals under the guise of national security. As the probe deepens, the more complicated it gets, so much so that even a sincere cop like Kerney may not be able to prevail in this no-win situation.

At the end of Judas Judge, Kerney seemed ready to retire. It's good that he's picked up energy as the newly appointed Chief of Police, however, McGarrity doesn't really ever address this inconsistency, except tacit assumption that Kerney's probably never going to retire since he really likes his job as much as the land. Fortunately at the end of this novel, there is no equivocating about it, Kerney plans to remain in the position to finish the job that he's begun.

I agree with Tony Hillerman's quote on the dust cover that "Michael McGarrity gets better and better," and recommend this book and the series to anyone who enjoys a strong police procedural with a good and credible plot or just likes to hang out in the Southwest.

  • Amazon reader rating: from 19 reviews
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"The Judas Judge"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark JUL 17, 2000)

The Judas Judge by Michael McGarrity

This time a six-murder shooting spree takes Deputy Chief Kevin Kerney to south central New Mexico, near Tularosa where he grew up and near where he met his wife. The shooting spree started sometime after midnight, the killer randomly selected victims at campgrounds along a stretch of highway, ending the spree with Judge Langsford in the Oliver Lee Memorial State Park. Kerney notes that the MO for the Judge doesn't quite match the other crime scenes - whereas everyone else was shot once, Langsford was shot twice and with a silencer. Plus his motor home was away from the access road, a less likely target for a spree killer. Kerney speculates that the shooting spree was just a cover-up for an intentional murder. But to prove this, is going to take a lot of manpower and require an in depth probe into the life and family of Judge Langsford. And will once again take us through some very scenic parts of New Mexico, including the Apache reservation, all the way to the Mexican border in Texas.

But first, Kerney needs to close an Internal Investigation case against Officer Shockley. In trying to carry out a search warrant, Kerney ends up putting the cop down. Chief Baca makes a deal to let Hutchinson step in as Acting Deputy Chief while Kerney focuses solely on the shooting spree. For Kerney, this is a good deal since he's really ready to retire and is happy to see "Hutch" promoted to his job. Basically he's waiting for the money from the sale of the land he inherited and to find the right land to get his own ranch started. Moreover, he hopes retiring will give him more time with his long-distance bride, Sara, who lives in Texas managing her own military career.

Before I received this book, I was told by McGarrity's Webmaster that she thinks his novels keep getting better and better. I really liked Hermit's Peak, but I have to say this one is pretty good too. From the moment it arrived, I was caught up and did not put this book down until I was finished. Like the long distances that Kerney and his team cover during the investigations, McGarrity drives a lot of material, characters and surprises into this novel. Through Shockley he explores the crooked cop. Although this is a minor subplot, it ties into the the overall theme of betrayal by those whom we are supposed to trust most. And secrets. Seems that even Kerney finds out some secrets about his own life along the way.

To solve this mystery, Kerney learns more than anyone would care to know about any family. One of the emotions that McGarrity brings out in Kerney is how parts of his job are disheartening. You get a real sense that Kerney knows he's good at what he does, but sometimes he's not real pleased with how he has to do it. And this turns out to be one ugly case. As Baca says at the end, "It was a case to turn anyone's stomach, no matter how hardened. Kerney had been right in the middle of a dung heap of a family..." Between the case and putting a cop down, Kerney is definitely seems ready to retire.

  • Amazon reader rating: from 23 reviews
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"Hermit's Peak"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark DEC 12 , 1999)

Hermit's Peak by Michael McGarrityDeputy Chief Kevin Kerney dreams of owning a ranch and it looks like his dreams are about to come true. He has just inherited ten tracts (6400 acres) of prime ranch land in New Mexico from his mother's closest friend. He and his friend Dale decide to take a much needed weekend off to camp and explore the land by horseback.

As they arrive at a grassland area, they startle a stray dog. In it's haste to retreat to cover, the dog drops a chewed up women's athletic shoe. The dog looks in need of a serious attention and as Kevin and Dale discuss what to do about it, out comes the dog with another shoe. As Kevin says, "A dog carrying one shoe I'd call mildly curious. But a dog with two shoes piques my interest." So the cop instinct in Kevin seeks out the source of the shoes and finds some human bones. Still intent on enjoying his weekend, he calls in the New Mexico State Police. Then Kevin and Dale come upon a 40 acre swath of trees that have been clear-cut, apparently the work of a poacher selling firewood. Out of interest in protecting the land and at the possibility that the murder and the poaching are related, Kerney gets involved. And then, a neighbor is murdered.

I like the nontraditional approach McGarrity takes in writing this novel. While the investigation is underway, we are given insight into different aspects of the crimes. Although this is Kerney's story, we also see from the eyes of the people assigned to the case. For the reader, it's not so much a mystery in which we try to determine "whodunit". We already know the true nature of each crime. What compels us to keep turning the pages is finding out how long it takes them to piece together the investigation and then how they will feel when they know what happened. It's a police procedural more than it is a murder mystery.

The greatest strength of this series, is the sense of the Southwest, specifically New Mexico, that McGarrity presents to us. This is further conveyed by his easygoing tone that moves along like a man on a horseback. The wide open space is near impossible for me to fathom, but I crave it just the same. I see the vegetation and feel the warm dry air. Having always lived on the east coast, it is impossible for me to wrap my head around the volume of land that Kerney inherited. Besides the day to day events of the investigation, there is also a matter of seeing how things turn out for Kevin Kerney. He is such a nice guy, it's not hard to root for him. While in the mist of the investigation, a woman whom he has more than a passing interest in, decides to pay him a surprise visit. Following the murder investigation is one thing, but then there's the matter his relationship with Sara and the land. Will he get to keep it despite the taxes? This multi-prong approach kept me turning the pages and makes me want to catch up on his past novels.

  • Amazon reader rating: from 23 reviews

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About the Author:

Michael McGarrityMichael McGarrity is a former deputy sheriff for Santa Fe County. He entered the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy in his forties, and upon graduation joined the Santa Fe Sheriff's Department. While there he established the first Sex Crimes Unit and led it to award-winning status, personally breaking many of the unit's most difficult cases. He has also served as an instructor a the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy and as an investigator for the new Mexico Public Defender's Office. He has also worked as a ranch hand, corporate consultant, and a psychotherapist in private practice. His first Kevin Kerney novel, Tularosa, was nominated for an Anthony Award. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his wife and son.

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