Acclaimed author to speak at library

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By Kirsten Laskey

Mysteries can offer more than just a crime and a fast-talking detective; author Margaret Coel is attracted to the puzzles and the different worlds that this genre offers. She will discuss her attraction to mysteries during the Authors Speak presentation at 7 p.m. Thursday at Mesa Public Library.

Her love of mysteries was furthered fueled by one of the masters of mystery novels, Tony Hillerman.

“Tony Hillerman encouraged me,” Coel said. “He was a great influence. He actually gave me a quote – ‘She’s a master.’

“He was the first one to go in and write about a tribe and portray them as human beings. When he did this it was really revolutionary,” she said.

Before Hillerman began writing, Coel explained people across the country often had a stereotypical view of Native Americans but Hillerman, she said, helped change that view.

Hillerman showed respect for Native American culture and history, Coel said.

“I wanted to do the same kind of thing,” she said.

Coel has fulfilled this desire through 15 novels in her “Wind River” series.

“I write mystery novels … they are set on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming with the Arapahos … the novels feature two detectives. Vicky Holden, she is an Arapaho lawyer, and Father O’Malley, who’s a Jesuit priest on the reservation. All of the novels deal with some aspect of the history of the Arapaho people and their culture … (the novels) go back into history.”

Her newest book in the series is called “Silent Spring,” which addresses the 1920s when the Arapahos went to Hollywood to appear in Western movies.

Coel said she incorporates history into her novels because she is interested in the subject. “It was just my interest in history, especially the history of the West,” she said. “I’m very interested in the plains Indians. I’m a fourth-generation Coloradoan so I grew up on the early stories of Colorado.”

 In addition to her love of history, Coel added she enjoys mysteries because “there are so many things … so many old crimes and frauds and it’s fascinating to me to see how these crimes have to be dealt with in a new way in the present. It really came out of my love for history … it really gave me to chance to delve into research, which has given me a wealth of information to the mystery.”

Her work has won acclaim but Coel said one of the best compliments she received was when she attended a celebration on the Arapaho reservation. A feast was held, the elders prayed for her and Coel said she was presented with a blanket. More than 300 people participated in the event.

“It was the highlight of my career,” Coel said. “It was a wonderful event. Arapahos were always known for their hospitality and generosity and that is true today.”  

Coel is eager to participate in Authors Speak, not only for the chance to discuss her work but also to go to Los Alamos.

She explained her daughter, Kristin Henderson, her son-in-law Brad, and granddaughters Eleanor and Violet live in Los Alamos.

“We come very, very, often,” Coel said. “It’s beautiful. We always have a wonderful time.”

She added she is honored to speak at Mesa Public Library, which she visits along with her granddaughters.