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Ancient ones
Mitchell, Kirk.
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Publication Information:
New York : Bantam Books, 2001.
Physical Description:
326 pages : map ; 25 cm
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Kirk Mitchell won acclaim with his first two suspense novels featuring Bureau of Indian Affairs Criminal Investigator Emmett Quanah Parker and FBI Special Agent Anna Turnipseed. Now the author of Cry Dance and Spirit Sickness pairs Parker and Turnipseed once more, to investigate a case where the discovery of a mysterious skeleton on an Oregon Indian reservation will pit the demands of modern forensics against traditional tribal laws. Though there are signs of foul play, Emmett Quanah Parker and Anna Turnipseed aren't looking for a killer -- the remains dug out of a riverbank by an illegal fossil hunter are 14,000 years old. Parker and Turnipseed are sent to central Oregon as official witnesses to the examination of John Day Man, as he is dubbed, for the bones have quickly provoked a controversy that threatens to erupt into violence: the skeleton is not Native American but distinctly Caucasian, shattering long-held tenets concerning who the first inhabitants of this continent were. Emmett, with his Comanche and white ancestry, and Anna, a reservation-born Modoc with Asian blood, share a sensitivity to both parties' concerns -- and a forbidden attraction that's causing them professional and personal problems. They've broken the unwritten law that partners should never get emotionally involved. Having crossed that line, Emmett and Anna are too distracted by each other to see the escalating suspicion and fear around them when a young tribal anthropologist is swallowed by the misty night and within hours of her disappearance the fossil hunter who discovered the skeleton is found disemboweled. The Warm Springs Indians insist that the unburied bones of the Ancient One have been turned into a skep, a murderous spirit that haunts the darkness. As winter closes in on the steppes of the Columbia Plateau, accusations of ritualized murder fly between the Indian and white communities -- and the fight turns deadly when a second skeleton is unearthed. In the midst of the turmoil, Emmett and Anna are paralyzed by their own demons. This estrangement could prove deadly if they stop watching each other's back long enough for a killer to target them too. And at the center of it all are the Ancient Ones, exacting a terrible price as the dark path to resolution runs a gauntlet through the boneyards of prehistory.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This third thriller starring BIA investigator Emmett Parker, a Comanche, and FBI special agent Anna Turnipseed, a Modoc, finds the pair in central Oregon, where human remains believed to be 14,000 years old have been found by an illegal fossil hunter. As they attempt to calm feuding factions squabbling over what the bones mean and who has jurisdiction over them, Parker and Turnipseed must also face a crisis in their own developing but troubled personal relationship. As in previous episodes, Mitchell uses Native American themes expertly, this time providing fascinating background on the conflict between archaeological study and Indian beliefs regarding the sanctity of ancestral burial grounds. As the conflict turns violent and a killer trains his sights on Turnipseed, the action thunders toward an almost surrealistically bloody finale. Mitchell's trademark combination of sensitive exploration of Native American subject matter with occasional bursts of Chainsaw Massacre^-like violence--even more apparent here than before--will alienate some Hillerman fans, but others won't be able to resist the pulse-pounding action. --Bill Ott

Publisher's Weekly Review

The unearthing of what seems to be the 14,000-year-old skeleton of a male Caucasian from an Oregon riverbank raises important cultural issues in Mitchell's latest book (after 2000's Spirit Sickness) about Bureau of Indian Affairs Investigator Emmett Parker and FBI Special Agent Anna Turnipseed, who are both part-Native American. Not only does the discovery go against most theories of when Caucasians arrived in the area, it also looks as though Native Americans ate the victim. Add to this the disruptive presence of a beautiful young woman seeking to have the bones classified under a political hot potato called the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and you have enough story for any book. But Mitchell also spends a lot of time on another vital issue: Will Parker and Turnipseed ever have sex? The attraction is certainly there, but Anna's history as an abused child has put up such a serious barrier that she and Emmett have consulted a sex therapist, who advises sneaking up on the problem with a series of games. So, while the discoverer of the skeleton is being gutted, the beautiful Native American woman is being kidnapped and the feds' Explorer is being blown up in a hotel parking lot, Parker and Turnipseed grope in public and swim naked in an attempt to follow the therapist's advice. The trouble is, every time they get close to a magic moment, something terrible intervenes. After a while, that pattern does tend to cool off most of the heat of Mitchell's otherwise involving, learned narrative. (May 8) Forecast: The April release of Spirit Sickness in paperback, which includes a preview chapter from this title, and the continued popularity of Native American mysteries bode well for sales. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Comanche Bureau of Indian Affairs Agent Emmet Parker and Anna Turnipseed of the FBI return in this installment (after Spirit Sickness), which finds them seeking the services of a marriage counselor to sort through Anna's abusive past. All attempts at intimacy must be postponed as the two officiate at the examination of a 14,000-year-old Oregon skeleton called "John Day Man." The remains are clearly Caucasian, setting up uncomfortable dynamics as law enforcement officials, tribal representatives, and cantankerous, oddball anthropologist Thaddeus Rankin jockey for authority. When attractive tribal representative Elsa Dease goes missing, Anna and Emmet don't lack for unsavory suspects, including Basque shepherd and fossil hunter Gorka Bibao, elusive Paiute rodeo loser Tennyson Paulina, and a group of pagans calling themselves the Norse Folk Congress. As the murder tally rises, suspects and law enforcement alike are caught in the butchering killer's web. For larger public libraries and libraries in the Pacific Northwest. Susan A. Zappia, Paradise Valley Community Coll., Phoenix (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



For years, Gorka Bilbao drove sheep back and forth across the hills of north central Oregon. Each day began anew the search for fresh grass and tender green herbs. He baked his bread in a Dutch oven over a sagebrush fire. He slept alone in a coffinlike travel trailer. That is how his father and his grandfather had earned their living, and Bilbao never dreamed of doing anything else. But when he was forty-two, the federal government cut back the number of sheep it allowed to graze on public lands. The conservationists said sheep were overgrazing the range. Most of the herds went to the slaughterhouses, and Bilbao's old way of life passed away. What to do? For a while, he washed dishes at his cousin's restaurant in Portland. But cities were his downfall. They tempted him to do bad things. A woman would get inside his head and not let go of him until he had her. He was completely helpless against this desire. And it eventually cost him his freedom. Released from prison, he returned to the badlands east of the Cascade Mountains. He could find no way to earn his bread there, so he drank up his welfare money and waited to get sick and die. All things without purpose on the desert get sick and die. Yet the badlands wouldn't let him slide off into oblivion. Each winter, the rains washed a new crop of fossils and old bones out of the volcanic ash that jacketed the barren hills. For as long as he could remember, Bilbao had stumbled across weathered bones and flat rocks with the imprints of leaves and strange creatures in them. He never gave these oddities much of a thought. But then, while waiting for his next welfare check, he came upon a man in a floppy straw hat and short pants who was scratching at the banks of the John Day River with a pick. A college man, it turned out. On that day, Bilbao heard the word fossil for the first time. The college man showed him a fossilized three-toe hoof, explaining that it came from a dog-sized horse that had once roamed this country. Bilbao asked if it had been an Indian pony. Smirking, the college man said no, this was long before there were any men in Oregon, long before there was such a place called Oregon. All this was of mild interest to Bilbao. But what the college man said next made the unemployed shepherd's ears perk up. The professor would pay good money for fossils. Others, although not he, would pay even more for human bones that weren't quite fossils. As much as their weight in gold. That astonished Bilbao. It also made him grimace as he recalled all the skeletal remains he'd passed by through the years. The college man said that fossils and bones, once exposed to the elements, quickly crumbled and lost their value. No more would Gorka Bilbao pass them by, and on that afternoon he became a fossil hunter. Ten years later now, he was back along the John Day River. His shoulders were hunched and burly from a decade of hacking at the ground with a pick, and his tangled beard was flecked with seeds from the thickets that lined the river. It was the last week of September. Mist hid the canyon walls, although a pale sun kept trying to break through. The unseasonable chill had made Bilbao take out his moth-eaten army overcoat and mittens with the fingertips cut off so he could still pick up fine bones. Soon it would be winter. This was a cold desert. Blizzards howled down the canyons. Ice fogs stole in during the night and left diamonds on the brush when the heatless sun came out at dawn. It'd be nice to hole up in his cabin in the Ochoco Mountains during the bad months, to do nothing but drink, but he always seemed to need the cash from more fossils and bones. Bilbao suddenly halted. "Here we go," he whispered to himself. "Here we go now..." At the foot of the bank lay a fossil fragment shaped like an oyster cracker. He recognized it right off: a scale from the shell of a giant turtle that had swum the vast, inland lake that had once covered this now parched country. Bilbao looked over his shoulder for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger who patrolled the area. The cop knew him, knew what he did for a living, and tried to keep an eye on Bilbao. But the desert was a big place. Seeing no one, Bilbao pocketed the piece of turtle shell. The turtle was an animal with a backbone, and the fossils of animals with backbones were off-limits. Much of what Bilbao collected was against the law to possess, and nothing more so than the remains of human beings. But oh so valuable. Yet, they had to be ancient. Very, very ancient. Once, on a moonless night, Bilbao had dug up a skeleton from the graveyard outside the old Bureau of Indian Affairs hospital in Warm Springs, then soaked the bones in potassium bichromate, hoping to pass them off as being thirteen thousand years old. That was the magic number to the college men; they didn't figure Indians had been in this country much longer than that. He tried to sell the remains to a professor, but the man knew at once they were fakes and refused to do further business with Bilbao. After that, the fossil hunter became more careful. College men knew bones like shepherds knew sheep. Still, there were ways to find the genuine article. Last autumn, the Army Corps of Engineers had finished the Clarno Reservoir -- Bilbao could see the sweeping concrete face of the dam from where he stood. And three weeks ago, the spillway gates had been opened, disgorging a man-made flood. This was to help the Chinook salmon make their way up the canyon and over the dam's fish ladder to their spawning places. The torrent had chewed at the banks of the John Day, hopefully scouring out old bones like nuggets of gold. Last night, the gates had been shut, and the river had dropped again. These fluctuations were posted by the Army Corps of Engineers in the local newspaper, and Bilbao was usually first to search any canyon after a water release. A loud splash turned him around -- a slab of bank had just peeled off into a muddy pool. Bilbao scurried over to this hump of dissolving earth and ran his practiced eye over the debris of centuries. There were flakes of stone left by Indian arrowhead makers. Charcoal from a brush fire that may have swept this way a thousand years ago. Black pellets of sheep dung from a herd he himself might have run when he was younger. By noon, Bilbao had found the vertebra of an oreodont, a stubby-legged, plant-eating creature. But nothing else. He waded across the shallow river. The water slopped into his boots and soaked his socks. He must get used to the cold again. He couldn't let the weather stop his searching, just as he'd never let it make him neglect his herd. At dusk, a chip of darkly soiled bone caught Bilbao's attention along the east side of the John Day. It was resting on top of another slab of earth that had sloughed off the bank. Anyone but Bilbao, who saw bone fragments in his dreams, would have missed it. "Slow down, slow down," Bilbao reminded himself. Haste had no purpose here. Just to the left of the chip was a knee joint. Carefully, he pried the thigh bone out of the silt and examined it. Human. It was definitely human. But how old? Bilbao sucked on his lower lip, studying the bone. By nature, he was suspicious of good fortune, for he'd had almost none in his life, but his heart was beating fast. This was good, so very good. He peered down. Strewn around his boots were a jumble of rib, finger and toe bones. "Jesus!" he cried out loud. Most of a skeleton, maybe. Rare, so very rare, for with time the Earth scattered her dead children far and wide. But this specimen still might be in one place. All of a sudden, the hair on the back of his neck prickled. As if he'd blundered into a rattlesnake den. Something rattled angrily all around him, but when he held his breath to listen over his pounding heart, he heard only the murmur of the river. Something was rising from the mud. He could feel it swirling in the air, almost see it spinning into shape. The fog blew back from the mound, and the brush topping the bank shivered as if trying to yank free of its roots and bolt away. Bilbao shut his eyes. The nearby Warm Springs Indians claimed that there was bad power in old bones. This power was easy to awaken but almost impossible to put to rest again. He didn't want to see anymore. He was chilled by his find. Evil surrounded it, just as evil surrounded him when the city got hold of his soul and made him do things against his nature. But there was also pleasure in evil -- and profit. As if on that thought, the air went still. Dead still. Slowly, Bilbao opened his eyes. There was no sign of the strange restlessness that had just sprung from the ground. Calming down, he began searching for the other bones of the skeleton. He located the sternum several yards upstream. Grinning, he was reaching for it when the same blustery evil seemed to explode out of the silt. It gave the breastbone life, made it appear to be a gigantic centipede scuttling through the ooze. Bilbao staggered back on his heels. This had happened before. In the detoxification tank of the Portland city jail. Things had wriggled out of the lime green walls to molest him, a gushing mass of cockroaches, worms and spiders that vanished only when the jailer answered Bilbao's hysterical screams. He forced himself to approach the breastbone again. It lay completely still now. Just a sternum. But one stained dark with age. He made up his mind that nothing was going to spoil his good fortune. Then his breath seized in his throat -- jutting from a sand bar was the domed curvature of a human skull. Splashing over to the bar, he lifted the cranium free. Only the upper portion of the skull. The lower jaw was probably buried nearby. Bilbao studied the specimen. A narrow face and a slightly projecting upper jaw. Not the round face and flat upper jaw of other skulls he'd found. He'd found no Indian skulls like this, but he'd been told to keep an eye out for this very thing -- a different-looking skull of great age. "My God, this is one of them! This is one!" Through the gaping eye sockets, he saw himself sitting in front of his cabin in the shade of his pine tree, sipping Thunderbird wine, planning his next trip to the listless but complying women who walked Portland's streets. Bundling the bones up in his coat, Bilbao laughed giddily to himself. "Son of a bitch, yes -- I'm on a roll! Nothin' can stop me now!" Out of an awkward silence -- and there'd been several awkward silences so far -- Anna Turnipseed's gently smiling, white-haired therapist said, "Well, you're both Native American. That should make communication a snap. And you both have the same job, FBI agents..." Anna expected Emmett Parker, her yet unconsummated lover of three months, to correct Dr. Tischler. Anna was the FBI agent; Emmett was a criminal investigator for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. But he didn't. He looked like a POW under interrogation. One who'd resolved to give nothing more than name, rank and serial number. "How's communication been flowing lately, Emmett?" Dr. Tischler asked. Parker shifted his tall, muscular frame on the sofa as if the simple act of sitting had begun to torture him. "Okay," he finally replied. Less than a ringing endorsement for Anna's and his progress since their last session three weeks ago in this office. Dr. Tischler pressed, "Has Anna continued to share things about her childhood with you?" "This and that," Emmett said indifferently, avoiding Anna's eyes. That stung. She'd told him more than "this and that." Dredging up those malignant memories had nearly killed her. It had amounted to an extraordinary act of trust, running her soul over the cutting edge of the past. For an adult survivor of child abuse, the past was not a stroll down memory lane. She wanted to smack Emmett, but relaxed her fists for fear Dr. Tischler would scope on this hint of aggression. "Do you appreciate how hard it is for Anna to discuss these memories, Emmett?" Excerpted from The Ancient Ones by Kirk Mitchell All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.