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Upcoming British Novel Puts Tucumcari on the Literary Map

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — ‘The Devil’s Dust’ sends four young Englishmen to ‘the dark heart of New Mexico.’

What is there about Tucumcari that captures the imagination? You heard the name mentioned in the opening minutes of Sergio Leone’s 1965 spaghetti western “For a Few Dollars More” and the city is mentioned by Tom Cruise in “Rain Man,” and “Tucumcari” is mentioned in countless songs, notably Bobby Troup’s “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66.”

And we’ve always wondered whether Frank Zappa’s “200 Motels” wasn’t somehow inspired by those billboards that once touted Tucumcari’s 2000 motels (later downsized to about 1,200).

Now, there’s a thriller/adventure novel written by British writer Brendan Yates, a BBC researcher who lives in Manchester, England, called “The Devil’s Dust,” available for pre-order on the U.K.’s

“Four English friends in their mid-20s pick up a Native American hitchhiker in Arkansas, and he tells them that he’s originally from Tucumcari and is on the run from a rival family there,” Yates wrote in an e-mail to the Quay County Sun. “The drop him off in Little Rock (Ark.) and when they arrive in Tucumcari they accidentally meet up with his family and learn that a long-running feud between them and another Tucumcari family is still bubbling under.”

According to the Amazon blurb, the four young friends journey to “the dark heart of New Mexico where primeval traditions and internecine disputes rage on …”

One of the young Englishmen is kidnapped by the “evil family in the Tucumcari Mountain” and the remaining friends, who have since moved on to Las Vegas, Nev., must win enough money at poker to keep their friend from being murdered in a “primeval Native American ceremony,” Yates wrote.

Yates emphasized in a phone conversation with the Tucumcari paper that “his book and characters are strictly fictional.”

Whew! We’re glad to hear that. Doesn’t exactly sound like Nobel Prize fiction, but it has all the earmarks of a made-in-New Mexico movie, if the state’s still encouraging that sort of thing.

Yates told the Sun that a trip along old Route 66 a couple of years ago brought him through Tucumcari and inspired the book.

“I noticed a lot of very welcoming motels that seemed to go out of their way to be very friendly and tell people about the history of the town,” Yates said.

Yates said his biggest challenge was to show his British readers “how big the United States of America is compared to Great Britain,” the Sun said.