In case you haven’t met him, Hubie Schuze is an Albuquerque dealer of ancient clay pots. Specifically, he makes a living as a thief and seller of stolen pots.
Hubie’s latest round of misadventures are encased in the novel “The Pot Thief Who Studied Georgia O’Keeffe,” the seventh installment of J. Michael Orenduff’s popular mystery series.
Hubie is after a Tompiro pot in the Oscura Mountains on the White Sands Missile Range. He’s assured a buyer will pay big bucks for it. The money will also solve Hubie’s financial entanglements.
The plot follows Hubie sneaking the pot off the range and to his Old Town shop, Spirits of Clay, and then, hopefully, into the hands of the presumed buyer.
But Orenduff’s novel is sprinkled with a cast of characters, word play and word games in American English, British English, French, and with excessive commercial and social detours of conversation topics, some dealing with New Mexico history and geography.
Detours spin off into other detours, which sometimes makes for tough going.
What eases the reading is that all of these distracting elements are part of the lightheartedness of the story.
We meet Hubie’s multiple friends and associates. There’s Susannah, his buddy and confidante; Sharice, his willowy Canadian dental hygienist and lover; Baltazar, the owner of a small-town bar whose name translates to The King’s Belch; Carl Wilkes, who scouts pots for Hubie’s trade until he’s killed; Whit, a not-so-straight cop; Consuela, his housekeeper; Gladys, a merchant friend and neighbor; and Gladwyn, a new Spirits of Clay employee.
And what about the business in the title about studying Georgia O’Keeffe? Early on, Hubie talks about what may be an unfinished, discarded O’Keeffe canvas. The next reference to the famous artist pops up 35 pages later in a discussion about O’Keeffe’s relationship with her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, and her assistant, Juan Hamilton.
Hubie doesn’t “study” O’Keeffe until later in the novel when he picks up Karen Karbo’s bio — does he read it? — “How Georgia Became O’Keeffe.”