Painted Horses

Written by Malcolm Brooks
Review by Jo Ann Butler

In the mid-1950s, Catherine Lemay goes to London to study music. Instead, she falls in love with archeology. Battered by German bombs only a decade before, the city’s Roman ruins enchant Catherine, and she helps salvage a unique temple which blocks post-war rebuilding. The next year, Catherine applies to the Smithsonian Institute for a summer position. To her surprise, the graduate student is hired, in large part because of her experience on a site which interfered with a developer’s plans.

Catherine is assigned to the Army Corps of Engineers in Montana. Soon the Corps will start work on a dam which, when complete, will drown a canyon. It is Catherine’s job to ensure that no significant archeological remains will be lost. However, the area is far too vast for a lone archeologist to cover. Catherine realizes that the Corps wants the inexperienced young woman to fail. Then she hears of a fabulous panel of Pleistocene artwork, unlike anything seen in the New World. Catherine needs to locate it quickly – and also to prove herself. She seeks help from the mysterious John H, a U.S. Army deserter living in the canyon and Miriam, a young Crow woman whose tribal lands will soon be flooded.

I loved Painted Horses, the marvelous debut historical novel by Malcolm Brooks. He’s a hell of a story teller, and offers readers an elegant love story, a haunting memoir of war, and an epic battle between preservation and development. Above all, this book will leave its mark on you, just as John H slaps yellow handprints on his mounts and some prehistoric artist etched horses on a rocky Montana canvas.