5 Great Books Related to New Mexico

In every printed edition of far west we link the main reviews to the cover story. For the Fall 2022 issue, that meant finding a series of books and movies relating to Billy the Kid or his adopted New Mexico (a territory at the time, as the “Land of Enchantment” was not granted statehood until January 6, 1912, more than 30 years after Billy was killed at the gunpoint of Sheriff Pat Garrett at Fort Sumner). New Mexico native author and far west Contributor Melody Groves took up the challenge, and below is her list of books with a New Mexico angle. Pardon our inclusion of a few works of fiction with a contemporary setting, but the historical and cultural references make for interesting reads. Let us know if we forgot any. WW

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Knight of Marianne (2017, by W. Michael Farmer)

Beautifully written and based on a real-life murder mystery, this novel follows the February 1896 disappearance of famed New Mexico lawyer Albert Jennings Fountain and his 8-year-old son, Henry. Ambushed at Chalk Hill near White Sands, father and son disappeared, leaving behind only a blood-soaked buckboard wagon. Author Farmer goes even further in speculation: what if Henry survived? Other novels in his Desert Legends the series includes Tiger Knight and blood soaked earth.


Daughter of the Spider Woman (2013, Anne Hillermann)

This first detective story from Leaphorn & Chee, written by the daughter of the late Tony Hillerman, Anne, takes its title from Native American legends. The story takes place in the Four Corners, where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado meet, a region encompassing 500 Indian tribes on 318 reservations. The novel won a 2014 Spur Award from Western Writers of America and landed on The New York Times List of best sellers. Daughter of the Spider Womana reviewer wrote in the on-
line New York Book Journal“continues the Hillerman tradition, providing sympathetic heroes against despicable villains coming together in unusual and intriguing situations in a glorious and little understood world.”


blood and thunder (2006, from Hampton Sides)

n Sides’ trapper, scout, and soldier says Kit Carson understands and respects the western Indian tribes better than most, but he must follow orders and participate in the final devastation of the Navajo nation. Richly detailed and spanning over 30 years of history, the narrative captures the West as it really was. The dusty city of Santa Fe is the epicenter around which politicians, government officials and the military swirl. Sides engages the reader, telling stories with intimacy and immediacy. It’s as if he were there.


The Hi-Lo Country (1961, by Max Evans)

Evans considered northeastern New Mexico, where it borders Oklahoma, Colorado and Texas, Hi-Lo country. Growing up in this region as a young artist, Evans used the land as the setting for his best-known writings. At the center of this tale set after World War II is the story of the friendship between two men, their mutual love for a woman and their engagement in the arid and dry grasslands of the high desert. The Hi-Lo Country was adapted into a 1998 film starring Woody Harrelson, Billy Crudup and Patricia Arquette.


Milagro Beanfield’s War (1974, by John Nichols)

The first volume in a New Mexico trilogy, this novel is set in the early 1970s in the fictional town of Milagro, NM. The recurring themes of water rights and the developer versus the small farmer drive this story. Milagro farmer Joe Mondragon sparks the conflict when he illegally irrigates his bean field. “I learned so much about New Mexico,” a recent “Land of Enchantment” transplant says while reading the novel. The writer’s sense of humor and love for northern New Mexico are evident. A film based on the novel and directed by Robert Redford was released in 1988.

this article first appeared in wild west magazine

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Colin L. Johnson