Virgil Alexander lives in Arizona with his wife Lois, near their four children, fourteen grandchildren, and one great-grandchild (Actually they are all great!). He has written three mysteries in his contemporary Rural Cops Series: The Wham Curse (2012), Saints & Sinners (2014), and The Baleful Owl (2015). The stories all feature Graham County Deputies Bren Allred and Manny Sanchez, and San Carlos Apache Policeman Al Victor, as they solve murders related to: The 1889 robbery of US Army Paymaster Wham, smuggling in and protecting a Mexican girl from a drug boss (Saints), and theft of Salado Indian artifacts (Baleful). Alexander is also working on a non-fiction history of ranching in Gila County, and contributes items to on-line history pages, and historical museums. Saints & Sinners won the Public Safety Writers Association Award.
Welcome to my blog, Virgil. I understand this is a romantic mystery. That’s my favorite genre. Please tell us about your novel, The Baleful Owl.
The murder of an archeologist and attempted murder of another over Salado Culture artifacts, including the namesake Baleful Owl effigy, draw our three officers into the hunt for a sophisticated artifact theft ring as they strive to find the killer. The Baleful Owl, like all my books, is heavy on rural lifestyles, natural history, contemporary Southwestern culture, Indian, Hispanic, and Mormon culture and traditions. The romance comes from the married relationships of the two senior officers, the engagement and marriage of Deputy Sanchez, and the development of a tentative but tender romance between a male and female deputy who seem to suffer some gender confusion.
I love the premise of this story. I have a series that is all about artifact theft, also. Where did you get your inspiration for this book?
A great deal of what I write is from actual experiences I, or others close to me, have had. I grew up in a small mining community with ranchers, miners, Apache, Hispanic, and may other immigrant classmates and friends. My wife is descended from Mormon pioneers in Arizona. Almost all my uncles were law officers of one kind or another, as are many of my cousins, my dad was a reserve deputy, a member of search and rescue, and a member of the sheriff’s posse; so I grew up in the middle of lots of cop talk.
I taught college classes on the Apache reservation, worked in the San Carlos Branch, and as the district Boy Scout commissioner help organize a police explore post there. A good friend and coworker of about twenty years was an Apache and many of the reservation episodes in my books are stories from him. He passed away last year and The Baleful Owl is dedicated to him.
As for archeology, my mother was a collector and amateur archeologist as were many of her closes friends. Because of this, I developed an interest in prehistoric native cultures, and have studied it as an avocation. When mom passed away in 1994 I suggested donating her collection to a local cultural museum, but we decided to split it between the four siblings, so I now have one quarter of her collection of mostly Hohokam and Salado artifacts. Mom knew the provenance of each item, but unfortunately she did not write it down so it is lost. One of the minor events in The Baleful Owl relates the breaking of a beautiful stone hoe by careless digging of an archeology student; in real life it was something I did when I was about ten years old. That hoe, glued together is in my collection.
I now have a markedly dim view of this type of collecting, which is now mostly illegal, but those experiences created in me an awe of the historic, scientific, and esthetic value of these ancient works. And finally, as noted in the acknowledgement, my wife worked for the Southwestern Monuments Association/Southwest Archeological Center and knew some of the most prominent scientists in the field.
What kind of research did you do?
I did a lot of research on Salado pottery, Salado lifestyle (as currently extrapolated by anthropologists), and what is currently known about the Sobaipuri Culture, which some archeologists, and I, believe were the descendants of the displaced Salado. I researched some in the Uto-Aztecan language and history of the O’odham people, into whom the Sobaipuri were absorbed in early Spanish historic times. I researched the history of animosity between the O’odham and Apache tribes. For every one of my books I do a bit more research related to the Apache.
Please tell us about the main character in this story and what you love about him or her.
Bren Allred is a well-trained, widely experienced officer who resigned as a detective in Metropolitan Phoenix to return home to the peace of the Gila Valley for the better lifestyle. He and his wife Monica have two children, and possibly another on the way. Bren is governed by his strong sense of right and wrong, and his concern and respect for others. He is a brilliant people manager, mostly leading by example, and has won the trust and respect of his fellow officers and the sheriff, as well as that of pretty much everyone who knows him.
Bren is the main character in that he glues the pieces of the story together, but he shares just about equal time in the book with the other two main officers, Victor and Sanchez. What I like about Bren is his life is almost always congruent with his values, and his gentle leadership brings out the best in the people who work for him. He is a gentle man, and a gentleman, in a sometimes mean and violent occupation.
But I love my other two main characters, too. Al is a wisecracking, happy guy who successfully walks to line between Indian and non-Indian society; but he is also a guy that you always want on your side in a fight. Manny is a very young man who is a lover of knowledge in general so is constantly learning. He is green enough that he sometimes makes mistakes, but is brilliant at making sense of seemingly unconnected information.
Now it’s time to tell us something about the real you that we’ll never forget.
I’m a slow study. It took me 25 years to earn my bachelor degree, mostly night school and mostly having to drive 80 miles to class; finally earning my degree in Management.
During that same period, I completed a four your apprenticeship in instrumentation (on the job, with night school), a control engineering certificate from Foxboro College, Boy Scout Wood Badge training, served as a counselor in two bishoprics, and as bishop for seven years. (The reason my four kids turned out so well is due to one thing - my extraordinary wife raised them.)
Thank you, Virgil, for this interview. I hope my readers check this story out. Virgil’s books are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Oak Tree Press. You may find Virgil at the following websites:
My Webpage: http://virgilalexander.weebly.com/