Mystery writer Mark Edward Langley said he learned about setting from reading Tony Hillerman, about action from Mickey Spillane, about dialogue from Robert B. Parker and about plotting from John D. MacDonald.
“And from Ernest Hemingway, well, it’s Hemingway,” the 61-year-old Langley said in a phone interview from his Indiana home.
Langley’s novels are set in New Mexico. The third and most recent novel in Langley’s Arthur Nakai Mystery series is “When Silence Screams.”
Nakai, a Navajo, is a newly-minted private investigator. He is hired to track down 19-year-old April Manygoats, who has gone missing. She disappeared in Santa Fe six months earlier when her parents were selling jewelry under the portal at the Palace of the Governors. The mother tells Nakai that April went for some gelato and never returned. That was six months ago.
The search for April leads Nakai to investigate a tangle of sex trafficking and prostitution involving preteen, teenage and 20-something females.
Nakai meets with a Santa Fe cop, then visits a women’s shelter in Albuquerque, whose director remembers helping April. She said April ran away from the shelter before contacting her parents. The director tells Nakai to find Jonzell, a porn photographer and hireling of a local prostitution kingpin.
April isn’t the only victim of abuse Nakai hears about or encounters.
There’s Lucy Nez, age 15, who disappears while riding her bicycle home after hanging out with a friend on the Navajo Reservation. Lucy and April eventually find themselves sharing a dungeon-like cell.
There’s Alyssa, a young Latina wearing a bralette and panties when Nakai invades Jonzell’s motel room. Nakai convinces Alyssa, who proclaims she’s unloved, to leave just as Jonzell is planning to make a porn flick with her.
There’s Nikki, who hustles drinks and sex in the kingpin’s bar, “… using all the seductive prowess of a 13-year-old professional.”
Posing as a client, Nakai meets her at the kingpin’s den in the North Valley.
A sidebar unrelated to Nakai’s pursuit of April has Navajo police looking into the murder of Angelina Martinez, a woman in her early 20s, whose body they find at the edge of a lake not far from Shiprock.
The back of her head had been bludgeoned and her forehead, nose and jaw “crushed with a vengeance.” What’s more, she was pregnant. The baby had been crudely cut out of the woman’s abdomen and may be alive.
Advisory: The book has a surfeit of scenes using graphic language describing sexual abuse, brutality, captivity, all suffused with degradation.
Langley explained why he felt the need to incorporate so much graphic language.
“People need to understand what actually goes on. If it upsets some people, that’s fine by me. I can’t gloss over the gravity of it,” Langley said.
“You have to have characters you love to hate and you have to be as real as can be without being super-graphic. I could have gotten more graphic.”
The narrative could have benefited from more editing. Late in the novel, Langley’s writing solidifies when he turns Nakai into a blazing, heroic action figure with his wolf-dog Ak’is. He tracks April from truck stops in Albuquerque and Milan to a remote home in northwest New Mexico where he leads a daring rescue operation. A few hours later Nakai is back in the Duke City organizing the police-backed takedown of the prostitution czar.
Langley dedicated “When Silence Screams” to the 5,712 Indigenous women and girls reported missing or murdered during 2016. He said he is donating a portion of the proceeds of the book’s sales to the non-profit organization Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women USA. Its website is mmiwusa.org.
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