By Michael Shinabery
May 24, 2016
ALAMOGORDO – In 1996, with his first book “Tularosa” in hand, Michael McGarrity drove into Alamogordo from Santa Fe and went knocking on doors seeking media interviews.
Twenty years later, readers around the world now eagerly await each new McGarrity novel. His books have been printed in such countries as Japan, France, Germany, Croatia, England and Norway.
McGarrity’s first novels featured investigator Kevin Kerney, an ex-chief of detectives in Santa Fe. McGarrity himself was a decorated law enforcement officer, an instructor at the state’s Law Enforcement Academy, a Public Defender’s Office caseworker, and a trained psychotherapist who re-established the New Mexico Correction’s Department’s mental health services.
This Sunday, May 29, McGarrity is back in Alamogordo. His newest novel, “The Last Ranch,” is already on the shelves at Hastings. At 1 p.m. he’ll meet his readers and autograph books. McGarrity likes Alamogordo. The town’s featured prominently in his stories and he has, he says, sold more books here than any other author.
Four years ago McGarrity published “Hard Country,” the first in a trilogy that featured Kerney’s grandfather Patrick, and father Matthew. “Back Lands” followed and now, in “The Last Ranch,” Matthew returns from World War II to resettle into life on the family’s New Mexico spread. Readers in Otero and Lincoln counties are quite familiar not just with locations where McGarrity sets his action, but with historical characters such as Eugene Manlove Rhodes and John Prather who once walked Alamogordo’s streets.
As a prequel, readers witness the birth of Kevin Kerney.
“It’s a boy,” McGarrity writes of the moment. “(Matt) cut the umbilical cord with his pocketknife and slapped the baby on the rump. And with Matt’s pronouncement, bloody, red-faced Kevin Kerney, perhaps the last child to be born on the old Tularosa, entered the world, took his first breath, and began to cry.”
More than any other author who melds fiction with historical events, McGarrity adeptly portrays the United States government’s grab of the land that became White Sands Proving Ground (now Missile Range). In “The Last Ranch,” the Kerneys are affected, and McGarrity’s inclusion of the struggle does ample justice to a historical wrong.
In early 1942, as a result of Japan bombing Pearl Harbor, the government seized the land. Hard-working men and women lost private property, their water and mineral rights, and were forced to herd cattle in the dead of winter to new grazing areas. They not only had to pay for new living accommodations, but also were responsible for keeping mortgages current on the land the government now occupied.
McGarrity moves his characters through World War II, the first Atomic Bomb test, the demise of the once-prosperous cattle community of Engle, into nearby Hot Springs a.k.a. Truth of Consequences, and on through the Vietnam War in which Kevin Kerney serves.
Closing the book after the final page of the saga may invoke emotions of losing a good friend. For the past four years McGarrity fans have been there through the Kerneys’ struggles and triumphs, the victories and injustices, and the successes and heartaches. It can be kind of tough saying adios to fellow New Mexicans that have lived and loved, thanks to the life the skilled storyteller McGarrity has breathed into them.
McGarrity will also sign his book at COAS Books in Las Cruces, 317 N. Main St., May 28, at noon and Las Cruces' Thomas Branigan Memorial Library, 200 E. Picacho Ave., May 28, at 1 p.m. At Alamogordo's Hastings, 805 N. White Sands Blvd., at 1 p.m. May 29 and Ruidoso's Books Etc., 2340 Sudderth Drive, at 4:30 p.m. May 29.