In the third novel in this series set in New Mexico, retired policeman Kevin Kerney is restored to active duty despite serious wounds suffered in a shooting incident. His friend, Andy Baca, has been appointed chief of the state police, and wants Kerney to solve two crimes: the murder of a small-town deputy sheriff, and the theft of valuable paintings and other art objects from the office of the governor.
The murder is quickly disposed of. It had been committed by Nina Lassiter, a veterinarian who had been raped by the deputy years earlier. The theft of art is a far more complicated business, and it leads Kerney to a dangerous conspiracy. Powerful figures in the state government are involved in the theft and are associated with the man who masterminded the crime, a Mexican drug lord named Enrique DeLeon. DeLeon was a sinister figure in Michael McGarrity’s first novel, TULAROSA (1996), and he is the chief villain in SERPENT GATE, working through his henchman, Carlos Ruiz. Politicians and lawyers are his partners in criminal activity, and some are directly involved in murders committed during and after the theft of the art treasures. On orders from DeLeon, Ruiz arranges several attempts to kill Kerney. In the climactic scene, Kerney saves his life and that of Nita Lassiter from Ruiz and two other gunmen during a raging blizzard.
McGarrity’s experience as a detective in Santa Fe is the basis for the authenticity of police activity in SERPENT GATE, and Kerney continues to develop as an interesting character, although this novel would benefit from the depiction of less stereotyped villains.