Susan Cummins Miller: Frankie MacFarlane, Geologist, Mysteries

DEATH ASSEMBLAGE    (First in the Series)

By Susan Cummins Miller

The first of the Frankie MacFarlane Series

The mountains west of Pair-a-Dice, Nevada, hold mysteries geological, historical, and personal. Geologist Frankie MacFarlane has mapped the Paleozoic and Mesozoic sedimentary rocks of the range for the past three summers. In the final week of her dissertation fieldwork, she searches for an elusive final key to her research: a limestone marker bed--a death assemblage of fossil ammonoids--hidden by dangerous, shifting talus. But as Frankie strives to piece together her geologic jigsaw puzzle, the denizens of Pair-a-Dice, her base of operations, embroil her in a web of ancient and recent murders, a manhunt, kidnappings, and blackmail.

A thirty-truck town, fifty miles from anywhere, Pair-a-Dice boasts two restaurants, three bars, seven pool tables, twenty-one slot machines, and a motley assemblage of misfits, including Diane Laterans, a punk schoolteacher who wears her Phi Beta Kappa key from her ear; Isabel Elorrio, crusty ex-marine and motel proprietor; Lon Bovey, rancher and would-be congressman; Walker, a mute handyman; the Anderson brothers, hooligans claiming kinship to infamous Bloody Bill; and a stranger, E. J. Killeen, U.S. Army, retired.

Two bodies are discovered near Interstate 80, disrupting Frankie's research. Are the killings linked to Killeen, to the new waitress in town, to Frankie's ex-fiancé, who disappeared four months ago, or to older violence, the clues of which Frankie discovers in the mountains?

Frankie's environmental sensibilities and her grasp of geologic and human continuums make her truly a sleuth of the new millennium.


“A rollicking pentimento of fieldwork gone afoul!”— Sarah Andrews, Geotimes“Assured and erudite.”— Publishers Weekly“A gripping thriller, exciting and eager to lure the reader into a labyrinth of human deceit. . . . Attention Hollywood—this is the stuff from which blockbuster movies can be made!”— Midwest Book Review


DETACHMENT FAULT    (Second in the Series)

By Susan Cummins Miller

FINALIST, 2004 Mountains & Plains Regional Booksellers Award (Adult Fiction).  HONORABLE MENTION, 2004 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award (Mystery).

•  Jorge Desierto's bound body is discovered in the Sea of Cortez.

•  A young American flamenco dancer, Carla Zorya, disappears during police interrogation in Mexico.

•  Two weeks later, in Tucson, Carla's doppelganger, community college student Angelisa Corday, is found stabbed to death in the school amphitheater. On Angelisa's finger is a rare alexandrite ring--perhaps the very one Carla wore when she went missing.

•  The next day, chemistry professor Hector Ortiz dies when his office is bombed.

•  And Frankie finds herself in a shadow war with unwritten rules and unknown foes.

Jorge was the brother of the MacFarlane family's longtime fishing guide; Carla, the girlfriend of Frankie's brother, Jamie. But when the Tucson murder victims turn out to be Frankie's colleague and a favorite student, Frankie joins the hunt for the killers, bringing her geologist's eye and analytical skills to aid two old friends--sheriff's detective Toni Navarro and private investigator Philo Dain.

As the search unfolds, Frankie ventures into an elite fringe world where the antiquities trade slips too easily into international money-laundering and far higher stakes. Skidding through so many twists and turns that even her “scars have scars,” Frankie leads her readers on a heart-stopping and unforgettable chase.


"Despite, and due to, the complexity of Miller's mystery, Detachment Fault remains a first-rate read, seasoned with a pinch of this and a dash of that. This is presumably how the delicate-but-hearty Frankie saves her skin--and re-creates her mother's best-selling recipes in between catching killers.With a heroine as talented as James Bond and the late Julia Child, it's too bad there aren't cooking instructions strewn throughout the book."--Leigh Rich, Tucson Weekly

"Detachment Fault should be read twice: once to discover who-dun-what-and-why--and then a second time, slowly, relishing Miller's evocative and knowledgeable descriptions of Arizona natural history and landscapes."--Wynne Brown, author of More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Arizona Women


QUARRY    (Third in the Series)

By Susan Cummins Miller

2007 WILLA Award FINALIST (Contemporary Fiction); ForeWord Magazine 2006 Gold Award (Mystery); New Mexico 2007 Turquoise Award (Mystery); and 2006 Southwest Books of the Year Notable Book.

As geologist Frankie MacFarlane prepares for her doctoral dissertation defense, two members of her committee are brutally attacked, one of them fatally. Meanwhile, the case on the supposedly deceased Geoff Travers is reopened, forcing Frankie to deal with the possibility that her former fiancé might still be alive. And, while working on a vertebrate fossil quarry, fellow student Dora Simpson is abducted. For her, time is running out.

In the Mojave Desert, amid the arroyos and volcanic mesas of the Cady Mountains, Frankie finds the final pieces to these puzzles—and becomes the quarry.


“Fast-paced, yet lyrical and evocative, Quarry yields a cross-section of creatures as fascinating as the fossil beds its protagonist studies. The real mystery for Frankie MacFarlane fans is how to read this book slowly enough to savor Susan Cummins Miller's skillful prose and characterization.”—Wynne Brown, author of Trail Riding Arizona

"Wonderful . . . Frankie suspects that a serial killer may be on the loose, a man who is so good at assuming new identities that he almost resembles the shape-changers of Native American myth. When Frankie is asked to join a geological expedition into the Mojave desert, she jumps at the chance to get away from the mayhem, but trouble follows her, with near-fatal results."—Mystery Scene

"Try getting your doctorate—in geology, no less—as your friends and colleagues are being attacked and murdered. Try finding out that your ex-fiance has been plagiarizing your work, and then discover that he's disappeared and might be dead. And then you still have to be able to tell creosote from andesite and basalt. . . . An engaging read."—Tucson Weekly

"The story opens with Frankie still preparing for the defense of her doctoral dissertation. But MacFarlane has more problems than that. It appears her manipulative ex-boyfriend is not dead but threateningly alive. And then her major professor is the victim of a mailbox bomb, possibly intended for MacFarlane. And that is just the beginning of the mayhem."—Arizona Daily Star


HOODOO    (Fourth in the Series)

By Susan Cummins Miller

2009 WILLA Award FINALIST (Contemporary Fiction); BRONZE AWARD (Mystery), 2008 ForeWord Magazine Books of the Year; PANELISTS' PICK (NOTABLE BOOK), 2008 Southwest Books of the Year.

Southeastern Arizona is a tinderbox. Down Under Copper's plans to explore for minerals have pitted landowners, worried about their water supply and property values, against those hoping to profit from the mining venture. Someone snaps.

In the traditional homeland of the Chiricahua Apaches, an environmental lawyer's body lies in the burned wreckage of his trailer. As if in retaliation, a DUC executive is shot. Geologist Frankie MacFarlane, her students, and Joaquin Black, an old friend and local rancher, find the executive's body in a clearing among the volcanic hoodoos of Chiricahua National Monument. And that night, near Paradise, on the eastern side of the mountain range, someone kills an ethnobotanist—a walker and puzzle maker who hasn't spoken in years.

When Frankie, Joaquin, and Joaquin's brother Raul become suspects in the murders, Frankie must decipher interlocking puzzles to clear their names and to find the killer—or killers—before they strike again. In the process, she discovers that, contrary to geologic principles, the past is the key to the present.

Miller weaves together geoscience, Western history and culture, ecology, family, and place into a compelling puzzle mystery narrated in Frankie MacFarlane's unique voice.


"Miller proves once again that she understands Arizona right down to its rocky core." — Elizabeth Gunn, author of Cool in Tucson

"Hoodoo is pure gold!" — J. M. Hayes, author of Broken Heartland

“Frankie and her students have wandered into a conflict between ranchers and mining interests--complicated by environmentalists--that has resonance in the Chiricahuas' historic competition for water rights.” Christine Wald-Hopkins, Tucson Weekly

“ the opening pages [of Hoodoo], we see a lot of the New West--the West as object of study and preservation; the West as environmental battleground; and the West as multi-cultural community...As a western whodunit, Hoodoo excels at drawing “circles within circles” as MacFarlane deciphers who killed whom and why. Past encounters, copper mining, environmental conflicts and myriad personal connections are fashioned into a complicated web that, at times, seems impossible to penetrate.”  Tombstone Epitaph, June 2008

“Life in the sleepy little southeastern Arizona communities of Portal and Paradise has never been as exciting as when geologist/amateur sleuth Frankie McFarlane [sic] arrives with her class on a field trip and stumbles upon a series of murders. Readers learn about rock formations, local history, birding, jaguars, mining law, and even African genocide as McFarlane literally assembles the pieces of a complex puzzle that identifies the killer and the motive.”  Bruce Dinges, 2008 Southwest Books of the Year

“In her fourth outing (remember Detachment Fault, Quarry and Death Assemblage?) Francesca “Frankie” McFarland [sic], now teaching geology at a Tucson university, takes a small group of students on a field trip into Cochise County and the Chiricahua Mountains. When they discover a body, obviously murdered and arranged in a ritual-like position, Frankie is drawn into an effort to find the murderer and protect herself and her life-long friend Joaquin. Lots of local color around the small communities of Portal and Paradise as well as virtual geology lessons concerning the rocks and landscape of Southern Arizona.”  W. David Laird, 2008 Southwest Books of the Year

“In the fourth novel of this fine series, geologist Frankie McFarlane [sic] returns to her home stomping grounds around the rugged Chiricahua Mountains of southeast Arizona . . . The prospect of a new mine has bitterly divided the rural community . . . , putting Frankie and everyone around her in the middle of a veritable range war - and a fight for survival. Frankie again shows that science can solve mysteries of many kinds. A field geologist from Arizona herself, the author intimately knows the Southwest. Her compelling mysteries are loaded with local lore and a wonderful sense of place. Susan Cummins Miller is one of the most enjoyable up-and-coming novelists of the Southwest. This is her best one yet.”  Sharon Gilbert, 2008 Southwest Books of the Year

Set in arid Arizona, landowners are pitted against environmentalists. Water supply and property values vie with big-money mining ventures. Who is in the right and who is in the wrong? Motives are mixed in this classic tale of the West . . . For this book, author Susan Miller has created a group of interesting, fully realized characters, as well as concocted an intriguing mystery, one not easily guessed. She's also used the Arizona countryside to excellent effect. Margaret Coel, look out. Miller is hot on your trail.”  C. K. Crigger, Western Writers of America Roundup Magazine, December 2008.


FRACTURE     (Fifth in the Series)

By Susan Cummins Miller

2012 WILLA Award FINALIST (Contemporary Fiction); 2012 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award FINALIST (Mystery/Suspense); NOTABLE BOOK, 2011 Southwest Books of the Year; FINALIST, Foreword Magazine 2011 Book-of-the-Year Award (Mystery)

When Tucson temperatures hit triple digits, old-timers say the ice has broken on the Santa Cruz River.

P.I. Philo Dain, just back from Afghanistan, and geologist Frankie MacFarlane are packing for an R&R trip to a cooler clime, when Philo's aunt is murdered in her empty Tucson mansion. Her husband, developer and power player Derek Dain, is the prime suspect. The day before, Heather had left town with the Dain coin collection, worth millions. Now it's missing.

Though Philo and his uncle have been estranged for years, Philo and Frankie agree to backtrack Heather and attempt to recover the coins. The quest takes them from the sun-baked Tucson Basin to the fog-shrouded San Francisco Peninsula. The fault-scarred hills hold painful secrets from Philo's past--and clues to a mysterious chess set, worthy of kings, protected for generations by one family, coveted by another. A treasure worth killing for.


Frankie MacFarlane is back in a gripping, layered whodunit . . . Miller has balanced shifting, fragile human relationships on top of shifting, impermanent, massive geological forms. They resonate with each other. They mirror patterns. They share change—that 'universal constant' driven by 'unseen forces.' And they provide a good story.” -- Christine Wald-Hopkins, The Tucson Weekly, 4/7/11

“The non-stop action moves from Tucson to the Bay area, where family secrets, past history and sinister plots are revealed. This is a page-turner with the added interest of local Tucson descriptions and geologic edification about California faults.”  -- Margaret Loghry, Pima County Library's 2011 Southwest Books of the Year--Notable Books

“In her fifth outing. . . new fault lines appear for Frankie to deal with - these of the human persuasion. Miller has become a member of Tucson's successful group of mystery writers that includes Elizabeth Gunn, J.M. Hayes and, of course, the venerable J.A. Jance.” -- J.C. Martin Special to the Arizona Daily Star, 5/1/11

“Susan Cummins Miller's newest novel FRACTURE is sure to have you glued to the pages.   . . . The characters are fun to read and the suspense is sure to have you staying up late into the night . . . If you are . . . craving a new mystery writer,  consider a Susan Cummins Miller's novel.  She is a favorite of ours.” -- Mostly Books Blog


CHASM     (Sixth in the Series)

By Susan Cummins Miller

2016 WILLA Award FINALIST (Contemporary Fiction); 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award FINALIST (Fiction/Other)

Since Major John Wesley Powell first explored the Colorado River in a dory, geologists have been drawn to the Grand Canyon. Frankie MacFarlane's no exception. When her old friend, Dora Simpson, calls to ask Frankie to fill in as geology professor for a small group of students taking a whitewater trip through the heart of the Canyon, Frankie jumps at the chance. Eight days. One hundred and eighty-eight miles on the River. One mile deep into the earth. Paradise. What could go wrong?


On Day 1, Frankie wrenches her knee. On Day 2, a solo kayaker forces her to choose between being gutted by a Bowie knife and drowning in the frigid water. Frankie chooses the river. And the game of cat and mouse begins.

Who wants Frankie dead? And why? Could it be related to the break-in at her Tucson home the week before?

As Frankie searches for answers, she discovers that one of the students, Molly McKuen, is traveling incognito, fleeing a forced marriage. Has the Family, with tentacles reaching from the North Rim to Mexico, tracked Molly into the depths of the Canyon? If so, the few exit routes from the Canyon bottom will be watched.

On Day 4, the threads come together at Phantom Ranch, the only place in the Canyon where bridges link trails descending to the River from the North and South Rims. But will ecoterrorists, aided by a soldier suffering PTSD, bring down the bridges before Molly can escape? And will Frankie, Dora, and their young charges survive?


A powerful, thought-provoking mystery about the human will to survive and endure against insurmountable odds. Susan Cummins Miller does a terrific job of guiding us on a harrowing river trip through the Grand Canyon where the rapids present the least of the dangers. And what can I say about Frankie MacFarlane except that she is one of the smartest, most resourceful, and wholly unforgettable sleuths around. --Margaret Coel, author of The Man Who Fell from the Sky

Chasm is a wild ride of a novel. Frankie MacFarlane faces intelligent, highly-motivated villains and the beautiful dangers of the Colorado River as it rages through the Grand Canyon. The story unfolds against a background of magnificent ancient geology with the heart-pounding energy of a thriller. Highly recommended. --Anne Hillerman, author of Rock with Wings

Miller keeps the story moving at a brisk pace as the several plot lines smoothly converge, amid the region's natural wonders carved by time. --Publisher's Weekly


Peach Spring Tuff, N. Cady Mountains, Mojave Desert, CA       (S.C. Miller)