Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Little Something from the Fourth Novel in the BJ Vinson Mystery Series

Given that DreamSpinner Press is into the publication process for the BJ Vinson Series (the first book is due out somewhere around September with the other two to follow at four-month intervals), I thought I’d give you something from the fourth book with the working title of THE LOVELY PINES. 

This novel, presently a work in process, takes place in 2009 and is set in and around the Albuquerque area of New Mexico. The story begins as our intrepid sleuth, BJ Vinson, receives a visit from an individual he had run across but never met during the Bisti Business. Ariel Gonda, a Swiss national, has left the Alfano Winery operation in Napa Valley and purchased the Lovely Pines Winery in the tiny, fictitious settlement of Valle Plácido a little north and east of Albuquerque. He has come to see BJ because of a break-in at his winery.

 I chose this scene from the beginning of Chapter 2 because it shows some of the history of the area… a subject that is terribly interesting to me.

     I drove to Valle Plácido directly from the house the next morning, saving a trip downtown and then a run back north. In a bucolic mood, I took the old Highway 85 to Bernalillo about fifteen miles north of Albuquerque.
     Bernalillo was an interesting town, at least to history buffs like me. The area had been more or less continually inhabited for probably close to 1,000 years, first as an indigenous Anasazi town, and later by the Spaniards when they arrived in the Sixteenth Century to claim it as a trading center and military outpost. The settlers who founded Alburquerque—somewhere along the way, the city lost an “R” from its name—had begun their historic journey from here.
     In one of those odd coincidences, Albuquerque is the governmental seat of Bernalillo County, while Bernalillo is the seat of Sandoval County. Go figure. Today, some 7,000 or so souls reside there, about seventy percent of whom trace their roots back to Hispanic origins. My father was fond of telling me that in the old days every bar in the town—and there were plenty of them—was adjacent to a service station because it was illegal to sell liquor on Sundays back then. Of course, the filling stations remained open, and a thirsty motorist was usually able to get something besides oil and gas. The present day town fathers like to say Bernalillo is the gateway to the Jemez Mountain Range to the west and the Sandias to the east.
     At the north end of town, I hung a right on Highway 550 and crossed over I-25, climbing steadily toward the mountains. Before long, I passed through another former Anasazi settlement renamed Placitas, which meant Little Town. With its large adobe homes tucked into folds in the foothills or hanging on the slopes, Placitas had managed to bring some of the famed Santa Fe style south.
     Shortly after leaving the town limits, I entered an even smaller settlement about whose history I had no knowledge—Valle Plácido. All I knew of the place was that people had been growing grapes and making wine here for centuries. New Mexico was one of the earliest wine making centers in North America.
     As instructed by Ariel Gonda, I turned north on a well-graded gravel road and saw the Winery about 500 yards ahead of me. My first impression was of a French chateau plopped down in the middle of New Mexico. As I grew nearer, the image was reinforced. I passed over a cattle guard behind an impressive black, wrought iron gate anchored to a solid four-foot stone wall stretching off in both directions. I assumed it enclosed the entire place, or at least the ten acres of the winery. The wall would probably have stopped a tank but provided little protection from stealthy intruders afoot. The vineyard sat off to the east.
     Up close, the stately house did not seem so foreboding, less of a Gothic manor harboring psychopaths and star-crossed lovers. House, of course, was a misnomer. It truly was a chateau, even though it was small by European standards. I judged it to be three floors of around 1,500 square feet each. The gray stone from which it was constructed wasn’t native rock. The copper Mansard roof had a cloudy, green patina. Doors, windows, and the roofline beneath the gables were all framed in brown brick.

It is amazing how often we drive down familiar roads and streets giving little or no thought to what has happened on those roads before our passage. Not every site must have seen a famous battle or sparked a revolution to have significance. The fact that the small New Mexico town of Bernalillo was founded and abandoned a thousand years ago by an indigenous people, reclaimed by Spanish settlers, and then come under the authority of Anglo conquerors is meaningful. Many New Mexicans, both native and adopted, have little appreciation of the fact that our state is one of the oldest wine-producing areas in what is now the United States. Fascinating.

I’ll make a deal with you. You keep reading, and I’ll keep writing. Feel free to contact me at

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