The pot thief strikes again

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By Special to the Monitor

J. Michael Orenduff, author of the popular “Pot Thief” mysteries, returns to Los Alamos from 4-6 p.m. May 21 to sign “The Pot Thief Who Studied Ptolemy” and partake in a Dutch-treat dinner at the Hill Diner afterwards.


Hubert Schuze, the pot thief, is back but this time his larceny is for a good cause. He wants to recover sacred pots stolen from San Roque, the mysterious New Mexico pueblo closed to outsiders. An easy task for Schuze. Except these pots are not under the ground — they’re 150 feet above it, in the top-floor apartment of Rio Grande Lofts, a high-security building that just happens to be one story above his best friend Susannah’s latest love interest. Schuze’s legendary deductive skills lead to a perfect plan, which is thwarted when he encounters the beautiful Stella. And then he is arrested for murder. Follow Schuze as he stays one step ahead of building security, one step behind Stella and one step away from a long fall down a garbage chute.

Fans can pick up a free ticket to reserve a seat at the Dutch-treat dinner with Orenduff.

Orenduff discussed his work in a recent interview. “I can’t remember not being interested in writing,” Orenduff said. “But my first serious attempt to write a book was while serving as president of New Mexico State University.

“The job was making me batty and writing was an excellent escape. I wrote a murder mystery, secured a big-name New York agent and accumulated a collection of rejection letters from all the major publishers. I tried it again and that led to the ‘Pot Thief Series.’”

Why a pot thief as a protagonist?

Orenduff explained, “I’ve always liked New Mexico pottery and I love Lawrence Block’s burglar series. So instead of a burglar — it’s sort of hard to justify breaking into people’s houses — I created a character who digs up old pottery, still illegal, but not quite so odious as burglary.”

He continued, “‘The Pot Thief  Who Studied Ptolemy’ finds Hubie trying to recover sacred pots stolen from the San Roque Pueblo. “Unfortunately, he suspects they are cached in an apartment in a high-security building in downtown Albuquerque, the residence in fact of the retired head of the University of New Mexico Anthropology Department who expelled Hubie from the program for digging up and selling old pots. The department head is murdered and you can guess the rest.”

Driven by dialogue at times reminiscent of Block, Orenduff has crafted a likable rogue as his protagonist, a deep-thinking philosopher equally comfortable comparing Ptolemy to Kepler as he is debating the merits of drinking margaritas with and without salt. The book is at its best when Schuze and Susannah bounce ideas and theories off each other and Orenduff is able to unleash his talent for creating consistently witty and occasionally hilarious dialogue.