Louis L'Amour,
The Haunted Mesa
(Bantam, 1994)

The disappearance of the cliff-dwelling Anasazi has yielded an endless stream of theories and speculations. In 1994, the world's leading western writer added his own hypothesis, based upon the beliefs, folklore and mythology of the Quiche Maya, in The Haunted Mesa.

Erik Hokart made a fortune in electronics before deciding to get away from it all. While flying over Arizona, he spots the perfect place to build a home: a flat-topped mesa with sheer cliffs on the sides. No Man's Mesa was remote and private, with plenty of space to land a helicopter and build his 10-room, native-stone home.

When he arrives to begin the construction, things get weird. After he discovers an ancient kiva -- an ancient, subterranean room used for religious rituals -- and his dog disappears through a window in the room, he realizes he is in over his head and he writes his friend, Mike Raglan, a paranormal investigator.

Mike knows something is really wrong because his normally cool and composed friend sounds scared. He flies from New York to Arizona, only to discover Erik is missing and strange things are happening involving some even stranger people. His only clue is Erik's daybook -- a daily journal of the strange occurrences high atop the mesa.

Erik stumbled onto a doorway to a parallel world -- the underworld known as Xibalba. He has been kidnapped and taken into that world, leaving behind a woman who tells the story of her ancient people -- the Anasazi -- and how they left No Man's Mesa. Now Mike must piece together the story of the "sometimes there; sometimes not there" doorways and figure out how to get Erik back to his world. It appears the only way may be a war with the Varanel, the soldiers of the underworld.

Mix Stephen King, Tony Hillerman and The Twilight Zone and you might be getting close to the tone and style of this freaky novel. With nearly 230 million copies of his 100-plus books in print, it is safe to say L'Amour never penned a bad story. (Obviously, this is a good book because it was a #1 New York Times bestseller.) That is not to say that he never penned a weird one; and this one definitely gets his "strangest story" award.

I read this book with mixed feelings and walked away from it with the same outlook. It is a good book, but it falls far short of a Tony Hillerman tale for weaving a mystery around Native American folklore and the southwest desert. I honestly believe it made the bestseller list based upon L'Amour's previous works -- his reputation made the sales and not the story contained in this particular book. If this had been his first or second novel, we likely would not have heard much more from him.

I am probably the only reviewer in the world to say this, but I was disappointed with The Haunted Mesa and much prefer L'Amour's traditional westerns -- the Sackett series and so forth. When it comes to southwestern Native American folklore, he should have left it to Hillerman.

review by
Alicia Karen Elkins

4 October 2008

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