“Denver Noir”, “Saving Yellowstone” and other books to read this month

Denver Noir (Akasha Books)

“Denver Noir”, edited by Cynthia Swanson (Akasha Books)

Denver has a dark side. And more than a dozen local authors tell you all about it.

“Denver Noir” is one of the 100 “Noir” books published by Akashic Books. They range from Istanbul to Wall Street to New Orleans (which has two). This is Denver’s first and some of Colorado’s top authors contributed to it.

One of the best is “Northside Nocturne” by Manuel Ramos, whose own series of noir books is set in Northern Denver.

Like Ramos’ other writings, “Nocturne” has a strong sense of place. In this story, a series of shootings of white men in a modernized Chicano neighborhood deters newcomers. Real estate developers are particularly concerned that fear will drive down property values. It “could turn into a mini race war,” says Petey, one of the characters, of Taco Bell’s nachos. “Everyone thinks the shooter must be Latino.” The story is filled with racial tension and inevitable doom.

In Barbara Nickless’s Ways of Escape, Persephone, an abused teenage girl, runs away from her home in eastern Colorado. Nickless is best known for her mysteries involving a railroad detective, so it’s no surprise that Persephone takes a train to her destination in Denver. It’s a harrowing journey. A bum shares his food with her and then demands payment. As for the end of the journey, well…finally this is a noir book.

The book features 14 writers, including Peter Heller, who writes about a psychopath trolling Sloan’s Lake on a paddleboard. And David Heska Wanbli Weiden talks about a depressed lawyer who thinks he has a big hit. Together, in ‘Denver Noir’, these authors write a diverse take on Denver’s underside.

“Saving Yellowstone”, by Megan Kate Nelson (writer)

Saving Yellowstone by Megan Kate Nelson (Scribner)
Saving Yellowstone by Megan Kate Nelson (Scribner)

Entrepreneurs were about to cash in on Yellowstone when Ferdinand Hayden made his historical survey of the park in 1871. An enterprising soul hoped to build a hotel. Others wanted to build a homestead within what later became the park boundaries. Not only did Hayden explore the park, he also took William Henry Jackson to photograph it and Thomas Moran to paint it.

Hayden’s passion was twofold, writes Megan Kate Nelson in “Saving Yellowstone.” Not only did he want to capture Yellowstone’s cherished land, he also wanted to preserve it.

The Hayden expedition consisted of 32 men, “almost an army on the march,” Hayden noted. Their job was to analyze, measure and record the rocks and rivers and boiling springs. The result was a report that proved “that Yellowstone represented the nation’s peculiar combination of the sublime and the terrible,” Nelson writes.

After returning to Washington, DC, Hayden lobbied hard for a national park. He had strong supporters, including environmentalists and many members of Congress. But perhaps his biggest lender was financier Jay Cooke, who worked hard to sell bonds to build a railroad through the Northwest. He hoped tourists would clamor to visit the park, making it easier for the proposed railroad to raise money. The opponents of the park designation were Indians, who, even though they knew about the park proposal, had no power to stop the designation. They just wanted the whites to leave. Unfortunately for them, Hayden’s reports, Jackson’s photographs, and Moran’s paintings undone them.

Nelson, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her earlier book “The Three-Cornered War,” blends the story of the expedition and struggle to designate Yellowstone as a national park with the plight of the Native Americans and even reconstruction efforts in the area. south to a fine story.

“Earth is the only thing that remains”, by Mark Lee Gardner (Custom House)

The Earth Is All That Lasts (Custom House)
The Earth Is All That Lasts (Custom House)

Mark Lee Gardner uses two Indian icons, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, in this book about the Native Americans’ tragic struggle to keep the whites off their land. Crazy Horse was a feared Lakota warrior, while Sitting Bull, once a brave fighter, was elevated to the status of a holy man.

The two took part in skirmishes separately to fight the “Long Knives,” as the soldiers were called, and together in the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

“You dare well,” Crazy Horse would say to his followers. “Only the earth lasts forever.” And they did just that, startling the soldiers with their relentless attacks. Often armed with traditional bows and arrows and battle axes instead of rifles, the Indians were formidable opponents as they swarmed over the soldiers. “They were fatter than fiddlers in hell,” one officer noted.

Gardner has done a wonderful job of researching the Indian wars, narrating battle after battle, from the glory days to the end for the Lakotas at the infamous Ghost Dance. Both leaders were assassinated – Crazy Horse in 1877 and Sitting Bull in 1890.

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