Doubleday ISBN 0-385-12824-x.

Pocket Books paperback ISBN 0-671-83586-6.

Glendon Swarthout’s Skeletons, a mystery/thriller set among corpses both ancient and fresh in mordida-land, in the old border town of Deming, New Mexico. There this unlikeliest of amateur sleuths, a feisty writer of childrens’ books from New York City, Jimmy Butters, gets in way over his head poking about in his ex-wife’s dark family secrets and old political skeletons, amidst deadly alien smuggling rings and crooked county Sheriffs. Skeletons is a multi-time-framed mystery of many layers, providing a punch of Western history and a dollop of insight into our immigration crisis ripped right from today’s headlines.

The skeleton in Jimmie Butters' closet is his ex-wife, Tyler. She is beautiful and obsessed, and enjoys painting coins and men's personals with red nail enamel. Her skeletons are two long-dead grandfathers and an old Colt revolver which she carries about with her like a doll. Tyler is also brilliant in bed and after a showdown between the sheets in New York, she sweet talks Jimmie into galloping to New Mexico in his classic Rolls-Royce to track down some crimes, dig up some graves, and sample the regional cuisine.

So begins Glendon Swarthout's first mystery-thriller, which, like his Western, The Shootist, is destined to become a classic of the genre. In its remorsely skillful blending of the sinister present and the far-from-golden past, an onion-like puzzle is peeled away. Old-timers give way to bullets. Innocent men are made to run a Texas horserace -- in lawless New Mexico. There is rape. There is mayhem. There is love. Above all, there is one B. James Butters, author of children's books, who hates evil, fears violence, and is as engaging and unlikely a private eye as ever stalked his prey in Gucci loafers.

How Jimmie Butters copes with the skeletons and where precisely they are buried is unfolded with quiet but dazzling cunning by a master storyteller, and whoever embarks on the search for these grim bones will not be able to stop until they have been rattled for the last time.

Skeletons is the only mystery Glendon ever wrote, with the exception of a children's book with his wife, Cadbury's Coffin, which received a nomination in its juvenile category for Best Mystery of the Year from the Mystery Writers of America. Skeletons took eight years to research its historical background and break the complex plot, something he swore off every doing again in a mystery after he finally finished its laborious writing. But try it to see what unusual can happen when a master craftsman ventures off his regular literary track into a very different genre.

Once optioned for a feature film by Alive Pictures/Shep Gordon with famous horrormeister Wes Craven attached to direct, but film rights have since reverted to the Swarthout estate. Screenplay available from Hoodwinks Productions (310-578-5404).


"More surprises, more fun, more chilly thrills than 10 average mysteries." Eugenia Thornton, Cleveland Plain Dealer

"A master storyteller . . . his talents have never been sharper as he reveals mysteries within mysteries . . . witty, tantalizing and pervaded with a tingling sense of foreboding and danger." Houston Chronicle

"With Skeletons, Glendon Swarthout has written not so much a whodunit as a whodunwhat? There are plots and subplots, murders, international criminal rings, old family feuds, even a reconstruction of a thrilling Old West style shootout staged nearly sixty years earlier in a Ford agency showroom. Swarthout is a superb mystery writer, filling the pages with surprise upon surprise, weaving a tale of suspense that mounts with every page . . . Skeletons is the stuff of which movies are made." Constance Daniell, Milwaukee Journal

"The plot is full of twists, turns, leaps and surprises; the writing style is crisp and humorous. And if you haven't guessed by now, the skeletons in Harding's closets turn out to be more than figurative. With all neatly tied up by the last page, one comes away feeling as though having just returned from a dusty, scary, and thoroughly enjoyable trail ride…Glendon Swarthout is a storyteller's storyteller. And his latest novel, Skeletons, is fine summer fodder." Baltimore Sun

"The plot is multi-layered, like an onion, and the reader is held as Swarthout peels off layer after fascinating layer . . . In the process Swarthout takes the reader on a memorable fictional journey that moves effortlessly back and forth in time and when it is finished neatly ties up all the strings in a most satisfactory manner." Phil Thomas, Associated Press Books Editor

"Glendon Swarthout has a ball that turns into a rollicking good time for the reader . . . A wonderful Swarthout tale! To reveal any more would ruin a page-turner of unusual gentleness and high spirits." Robert Armstrong, Minneapolis Tribune

"How this mystery ends will astound and chill many. How the novel ends will charm your spurs off. With humor, brisk pacing and an admirable economy of words, Swarthout engages the reader at every turn . . . As he has done before, most notably in The Shootist, Swarthout shows the cracks in the legends of how our West was really won." William Harry Harding, the Los Angeles Times.

"Steamy stuff, delivered in terse, unblocked prose, aerated with humour." The Sunday Times of London

"Fast-paced . . . intriguing . . . a thoroughly entertaining, can't-put-it-down novel . . . This is the book you've been waiting for!" Gerry Barker, Fort Worth, Texas Star Telegraph

"Witty, complex and highly entertaining, Swarthout's whodunit has all the ingredients of a good mystery." Publisher's Weekly

". . . It's his first crime story and laced with so much captivating mystery, vivid description and colourful, credible characters that it deserves to become a classic of its kind . . . The author scatters clues here and there and the main one confronts the reader on first picking up the book. But few folks are likely to guess the outcome of a yarn that shines like a beacon in today's sea of fiction." Bolton, Lancashire Evening News, Great Britain

"Skeletons might be called a thriller but it is very much more. It doesn't fit the thriller formula any more than its narrator fits the part of hero. He does, though, fit the part of decent man in a way that's unusual in present-day tough fiction . . . In spite of the horrors, very graphically described, it's a book of great sweetness. The good in it convince us of their goodness, which is rare. And of their niceness, which perhaps is rarer. It is precise and witty and ironic and enormously likeable." Isabel Quigly, the London Financial Times

"Mr. Swarthout has a highly idiosyncratic style and deploys it to advantage in this unusual story . . . Past and present are skillfully blended; there is a nice thread of humour; there are mystery and violence. Very well done and to be recommended." Sydney, Australia Morning Herald

"The author of The Shootist together with many other bestsellers has turned his practiced hand to a crime novel and it’s a tour de force -- witty, wicked, original and an enthralling read . . . It's ultra complicated and pretty impossible really but the panache and skill with which it is all done make it come fully alive and absolutely unputdownable." John Welcome, the Dublin Irish Times

Excerpt from Skeletons

I love GOOD and hate EVIL.

One thing I get a bang out of is reading aloud to a roomful of middle-aged children, ten to fourteen. I need to see how they react. What makes them laugh or cry, what grabs and engrosses them.

I was about to read a few pages, but first I had to set the stage.

“How many of you have flown?” I asked. Of the seventeen in the room, sixteen raised hands. Not surprising in New York. “Okay,” I said. “Now, how many have ever seen a fly on a plane?” Two raised hands, a few made faces. “Well, probably most of you have, and never thought about it. Next time you fly, notice. Usually you’ll see a fly or two hanging around the galley, where the stewardesses prepare meals. And why do flies fly? Why, because they enjoy travel, just as you do. And think of it--all a fly has to do is look at a schedule, decide where he’d like to go, pick his flight, fly to that gate, buzz aboard, and away he goes. No X-ray, no hand-luggage inspection. Free. And first-class, too, because the food and booze are better.

The phone rang.


I went weak. Tyler Vaught.

“Wrong number,” I said.

I hung up on her, resumed. “Excuse me, kids, just my ex-wife. Where were we? Oh yes. I suppose most of you have seen JFK. Well, the next time you go out there, go to the TWA terminal, stand in the center of the big room, and look up near the ceiling, in the northeast corner. If you have good eyes, you’ll--“

The phone rang.

“Jimmie, this is Tyler.”

“I know.”

“Max is dead.”

A pregnant pause.

“Well?” she said.

“Well what?”

“Say something.”

“It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.”

“You bastard.”

“Tyler, what am I supposed to do? Fall apart? So the sonofabitch is dead. Good night.”

“No, wait. He was killed by a hit-and-run driver. In Harding.”

“Harding? What in hell was he doing in New Mexico?”

“Well, it’s a long story. But one night I happened to tell him about Harding--you know, my grandfathers, the gunfight, the trials, 1910, 1916, and--“

“Oh no. Not that again.”

“And he got very excited. You know Max. He thought there might be a book in it. So the next day he flew out there. That was four days ago. Now he’s dead.”

“You’re breaking my heart.”

“Jimmie, why I called. His body’s being flown in from El Paso tomorrow. Someone in the family must sign for it--airline regulations--or somebody authorized by the family, and turn it over to the mortuary. Well, his dear old parents live in the Bronx and they’re on their knees--Max was an only child. So they’ve authorized me to meet the body and sign for it tomorrow afternoon and Jimmie, I don’t think I can do it. Alone. Jimmie, will you go with me?”

“Hit-and-run, huh? Sorry I wasn’t the driver.”


“I hope they total his coffin the way they total my luggage.”

“Jimmie, I need you. I can’t--“

“Adios, Tyler.”

I hung up on her again and readdressed my fidgety audience. “Where were we? Oh yes. Up near the TWA ceiling you’ll see a crowd of flies. Well, they’re the jet set, the pro international travelers--TWA goes everywhere. This crowd hangs around between flights and exchanges information on the best airlines and the best hotels and so on and the most-traveled of them all is Frisby. Frisby is a really worldly fly. He’s just returned from Italy, is recovering from jet lag, and thinking about having a look at Africa next. There’s a midnight departure from Kennedy to Nairobi via London. And as our story begins-- the pages I’m going to read to you--Frisby’s asking his friends about visas and inoculations and safaris and--“

Suddenly I didn’t feel like reading, didn’t need a roomful of kids. Tyler would call again, she never quit, and I wanted to be alone to think of different ways to say no when she did.

“Bug off, you little buggers,” I said to them. “A man’s dead and I’m not in the mood. So get lost and good-bye.”

They disappeared.

Imaginary children of course. I wish I were happily married, with my own progeny to read to, but alas, I probably never will be. Or have my own progeny. I live in an apartment on East Seventy-third, between Fifth and Madison. I used to live on East Seventy-third between Park and Lex, and it took me a long time and beaucoup hard work to move just two blocks west. Two blocks, even on the same street, can make all the difference status-wise in New York, a city I love everything about except the crime. I adore my block. On the ground floor of my building are Coiffeurs Piccolo Mondo, where elegant dames have their hair done and play backgammon, and an art gallery, Les Miserables. Little old ladies wearing boots and eating ice cream cones walk their dogs under my windows. There is always garbage piled in black plastic bags, and a Cadillac limousine double-parked. My real name, B. James Butters, is on my mailbox, but I use another sometimes. I am thirty-four years old and still basically a boy and had damned well better be. I stand five-eight and weigh one-fifty. I am a handsome lad with blond hair, baby blue eyes, four closets crammed with clothes, a classic are, a spectacular imagination, and an infallible funnybone. I BUBBLE. I BOUNCE.

I am also a coward. I thank God I’ve never been in a war and had to kill anyone. I have two locks and a chain on my door and have been mugged twice and handed over every cent and would have added a pint of blood and pound of flesh on demand. Violence on the street or the screen or the page makes me physically ill. The sound of sirens in the night--I live not far from a precinct headquarters and a fire station--and I am stark awake. I lie there and listen and think of all the ghastly things people are doing to each other that very minute and get goosebumps.

Going to an airport to take delivery of a corpse was not my idea of fun and games. Even with the most exciting woman east of the Mississippi.

The phone.

“Jimmie, if you still love me.”

I did. Desperately.

“I don’t.”