Michael McGarrity, acclaimed author of the New York Times bestselling Kevin Kerney crime series, visits Taos Saturday (May 21) for a discussion and book signing for “The Last Ranch”—the third and final novel in his American West trilogy at Op. Cit. Books, 124A Bent Street.
The event starts at 2 p.m., organized by owner, Noemi de Bodisco, who first encountered the author at Op. Cit. Books in Santa Fe.
“Those who’ve met him before know that Michael is a charming, gracious and witty guest,” she said. “We expect nothing less from him as he discusses the final chapter in the trilogy that is his magnum opus.”
The series also marks a significant departure for the New Mexico writer, as he winds back the clock more than a century to tell the story of the Kerney ancestors—starting with Irish immigrant and Civil War veteran, John Kerney in 2012’s “Hard Country” and continuing with his son, Patrick Kerney, in the 2014 sequel, “Backlands.”
With the publication of “The Last Ranch,” on Tuesday (May 17), McGarrity draws the trilogy to a close, fitting another piece of a timeline that sheds light on Kevin Kerneys’ origins as the police chief known to readers of McGarrity’s long-running crime series—for which the author first earned praise for his realistic depictions of law enforcement and his detailed renderings of the stark, sometimes desolate beauty of the American Southwest.
To achieve that level of fidelity, McGarrity drew from his own illustrious tenure as the former deputy sheriff of Santa Fe County, where he served as a patrol officer, community relations officer, training and planning supervisor and the founder and lead-investigator of the County’s sex crimes unit. He was recognized as “Santa Fe’s Police Officer of the Year” in 1987.
“The challenge was always first to get a contract with a national house. I wanted nothing less, and with that accomplished, I decided to roll the dice and make it my full-time career.”During his off hours, McGarrity was developing the convincing plotline and true-to-life characters introduced in his debut crime novel, “Tularosa” (1996). “I worked at it as my free time allowed while doing my day job,” McGarrity said.
The novel was met with critical acclaim, and 11 other books followed in the series. The last installment, “Dead or Alive” (2008), found newly-retired Santa Fe police chief (Kerney) living in London when he receives word that his former partner has been murdered by an escaped convict, forcing him to return to his New Mexico ranch where he must pursue another mad dog killer through the badlands of the Southwest—a setting that McGarrity and his readers know well.
But with the publication of “Hard Country,” McGarrity again “rolled the dice” as he made his first foray into the literary realm of historical fiction. “I wanted to do a stand-alone prequel to my Kevin Kerney novels with a storyline that dealt with what happened that drew him into police work,” McGarrity explained.
“Instead it morphed into a family saga that covered four generations of the Kerney family and a hundred years of history, stretching from territorial days to the close of the Vietnam War. Fortunately, I had a publisher who enthusiastically embraced the idea. Thus, the trilogy was born.”
While the characters traverse a mostly familiar landscape, McGarrity has proven to be adept at interlacing fiction with historical events and figures in his first two entries—including some very nonchalant cameos by Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.
“Historical fiction requires a good deal of accuracy when it comes to using real events and actual people from the past, otherwise you risk losing the reader,” McGarrity explained. “I had to weave fictional characters and events into that framework based on the reality of how people talked, dressed, behaved and lived during each generational time frame. In effect, often the lines had to be blurred.”
“My law enforcement experience … was of little help in understanding how peace officers functioned 150, 100 or even 75 years ago,” he added. “It meant doing the research—and a lot of it—to get it right.”
The result is a Western series that delves much deeper than a simple retelling of historical facts strung together with a fictional narrative. McGarrity is faithful to the existing Western cannon while being skilled enough to open it up and contribute insightful pages of his own, and avoids the yawning pitfall of retracing old ground covered by the inevitably-comparable Larry McMurtry or Cormac McCarthy.
McGarrity said he is already working on his next book titled, “‘Residue,’ another Kevin Kerney crime novel. It involves a cold case reopened with the discovery of the remains of a young woman once romantically involved with Kerney who had gone missing over 40 years earlier. Set in present day, it actually segues from the conclusion of ‘The Last Ranch’ and examines what happened to cause Kerney to want to become a cop.”