Short Review #34: Picnic in the Ruins by Todd Robert Petersen (2021)

Rating: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: Picnic in the Ruins: A Novel
Author: Todd Robert Petersen
Published: 2021 (Counterpoint Press)
Pages: 328 (Softcover)
Genres: Fiction, Crime Thriller, Archeology, Adventure, Adult
CW: Sexual References, Violence, Gun Violence, Cultural Appropriation, Looting, Strong Language
Link Here

Hello all! This week I’m here to talk about a novel with, what I think is, a very pretty cover: Picnic in the Ruins by Todd Robert Petersen. This is the first book I have read by Petersen, and I have not heard of him before I saw this title at a Barnes & Noble recently when I was browsing. The copy I read is from the library though, of course. This book does not have a huge following, as far as I can tell, but I found it was a surprisingly delightful read!

I’ve heard people talk about museums like they are some kind of pirate ship, but in reality, they are privateers, since their theft is so often sanctioned by the state… I grew up hearing her (my mother) talk about the way her own country… was systematically plundered by the British and French. This is true of Central America, China and Ireland – pretty much every place on the planet has had its heritage stolen and relocated somewhere else, usually accompanied by people talking about how the civilized world can help let light into the dark areas of the globe. Sometimes these places were called backward sectors. The U.S. president has other names for those parts of the world” – Todd Robert Petersen, Picnic in the Ruins

Picnic in the Ruins is an adult adventure novel about a group of people interconnected by a larger scheme surrounding the preservation and degradation of Native American cultural sites along the Utah-Arizona border. Sophia Shepherd, an intelligent anthropologist, is researching the impact of tourism at different cultural sites near the Utah-Arizona border looking to make a difference, when she becomes mixed up with the two criminal, bumbling Ashdown brothers stealing a set of maps from a disliked collector of Native American artifacts, which sets in motion a dangerous and deadly plot with a surprise outcome and ending. The story also features a small-town local Sheriff Dalton who just wants to mind his own business, an attractive and mysterious park ranger named Paul, and a German tourist named Reinhardt who wants to have an exciting adventure in his romanticized idea of the Southwest. The author covers a lot of controversial topics about site and cultural preservation, cultural appropriation and ethics, and even more serious topics about how the US population affects national parks and the lack of Native American influence in their care.

‘Beauty is a construct’… ‘We Should save all of it, even if it is ordinary, maybe because it is ordinary’…’And the tragedy is that most people have no idea what they are looking at, and so entire cultures have become decorations, fetishes, trinkets to be bought and sold. They love artifacts, but it stops there. I don’t see these people supporting clean water projects or advocating for the thousands of Indigenous women who have gone missing’” – Todd Robert Petersen, Picnic in the Ruins

I really enjoyed this one! The plot and writing were exciting, and the author does a wonderful job jumping around the different perspectives of the characters in order to tell the story. The reader can see the author’s knowledge of cultural preservation and anthropology come through in his writing. The only aspect I was not a fan of was the lack of conversations from Native American persons in the novel about the issues spoken about regarding their land. It was mostly brought up and discussed by the non-Native characters. It is what it is, but I think this would have made the book more compelling. How the author wrapped up the ending was also a little questionable for me. But overall, the topics were educational and the dialogue flowed well which made the book worthwhile.

Why should you read this book? If you enjoy adventurous novels with a heavy emphasis on real-life Native American cultural and land preservation topics, this is the book for you. I read this book on a plane last weekend, and it was just the adventure I needed for my own traveling adventure!

I give this one a 3 out of 5!


How do I rate these books? Click here to find out!

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