cover image Wizrd


Steve Zell, Steve Zelle. St. Martin's Press, $22.95 (327pp) ISBN 978-0-312-10577-8

In this uneven, but ultimately effective first novel, 13-year-old Bryce Willems and his 10-year-old stepsister Megan move with their parents to Pinon Rim, a once booming Arizona mining town in the midst of a ``renaissance'' caused by the influx of artists like Bryce's father. But strange things are starting to happen in the sleepy community: a Navajo boy is found drowned, an old man and his dog go berserk, killing a sheriff's deputy. Then Megan, exploring a cave behind the Willem house, inadvertently unleashes the full fury of a powerful ancient spirit of the underworld. Bryce learns the Navajo legend of the spirit and also discovers that the spirit's wrath and not the failure of the Wizard mine, made Pinon Rim a ghost town a century before. He must find a way to stop the cycle before history repeats itself. The novel's first half drags, burdened by too many characters and too much exposition, so that the ominous events that are meant to build suspense are nearly buried in verbiage. Nonetheless, all the laboriously spun threads furiously unwind in a hair-raising, fast-paced climax that makes the rest worthwhile. Zell has a sure touch when presenting Navajo lore, and his young characters are exceptionally well drawn and engaging. (Feb.)