Book ReviewJim Parisi

Bone Horses Come to Life

Bone HorsesBy Jim Parisi

Halfway through reading Lesley Poling Kempes’ second novel, “Bone Horses”, I realized that there was something drawing me into the storyline besides the wonderful storyline. Yes, I have a place in my heart for the New Mexico region where the novel takes place and Lesley’s writing makes the geography a character in the novel. But that’s not it. I grew up in a small town full of small-town characters similar to Agua Dulce, the fictional town that this novel is centered around. But that’s not it, either.

I finally realized that it is Lesley’s incredible character development that makes her story so tangible and comfortable for the reader to fall into. Every person in this novel has depth: not just the half-dozen main characters, not just the Good Guys and The Bad Guy. Although I must say the authoress did a wonderful job with the Bad Guy.

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Meet Charlotte Lambert, or “the queen of half commitments” as her friend Maddie calls her. They are in Santa Fe, attending the fourth annual Conference for Private School Teachers. But Charlotte is distracted and for good reason: they are near the obscure town of Agua Dulce, where Charlotte’s grandfather Al Rose, the famous Harvard paleontologist, discovered a dinosaur fossil quarry nearly four decades earlier. And where her mother, Alicia, fell to her death some twenty years later. The official verdict was that Alicia committed suicide, but her father Al, and many others, felt that she had not intentionally taken her own life.

Maddie convinces Charlotte to take their rented car out to explore, possibly to visit Agua Dulce. Charlotte feigns disinterest in visiting the place she has heard so much about but has never visited, but takes the car out anyway. And of course, she finds her way to the little town.

The cast of players is memorable, as is their interaction with each other, brought to us in Ms Poling-Kempes’ impeccable style. I particularly enjoyed Thea, with her organic concoctions for everything and Barty, the tough-hided cowboy with a heart of gold. But there are an incredible amount of very human characters to enjoy in this novel.

It should be mentioned that Lesley & “Bone Horses” received the 2013 Tony Hillerman Award for Best Fiction, New Mexico- Arizona Book Awards, 2013, which says more about this novel than I ever could in this column. Ms Poling-Kempes is the author of four works of non-fiction, including “Ghost Ranch” and “The Harvey Girls: Women Who Opened the West”, which won the Zia Award for Excellence. Her first novel, “Canyon of Remembering” was a Western Writers of America Spur Award finalist. Alternating between non-fiction and fiction takes a lot of discipline, shelving and juggling projects simultaneously. For example, she explained in a recent interview that she has put aside her latest novel, “Gallup”, which is about three-quarters complete, to complete her latest non-fiction project, “Ladies of the Canyon”, which she says “may be my best work of nonfiction”. As if that is not enough, she is also assembling notes for a sequel to “Bone Horses”.

I should also mention that I came upon this wonderful novel via Carolyn Barford, who painted the artwork for the cover and who resides near Tamarindo when she is not in New Mexico. Funny how the dots connect sometimes. I can’t wait for Carolyn to bring me another book by this excellent authoress.  

Check for availability at Jaime Peligros in Tamarindo and Quepos.