Professor Publishes Crime Novel Set in National Parks

Published: November 03, 2020 | Author: Savannah Byers | Read Time: 2 minutes

Picnic in the Ruins by Todd PetersenPicnic in the Ruins, Dr. Todd Petersen’s fourth novel, will be released on January 5, 2021. Picnic in the Ruins is a crime novel set in national parks, monuments, and cultural sites along the Utah-Arizona border. Pre-publication, the novel has already received local and national recognition.

Dr. Petersen has been immersed in the national parks for years. For a decade he and Dr. Matt Nickerson, associate dean of the Gerald R. Sherratt Library, led Southern Utah University students through national park expeditions across the country through the Partners in the Parks program. Meeting park rangers, experiencing historic and cultural sites, and learning about park management concerns prompted him to write this novel.

“It’s a crime novel also about national parks, which is something I’ve always wanted to write about,” Dr. Petersen said. “It’s a fun, engaging story mixed with an informational side. The more I talked to people in the community and at the university and the deeper I got into the research, the more the informational side came into the book.”

As Dr. Petersen was writing the book, local national parks were making headlines for a variety of issues. As the COVID-19 pandemic took center stage, this trend continued as folks fled to the national parks to safely get out of the house.

“I was writing fiction with one eye on the world to see how it goes,” said Dr. Petersen. “My other books focus on more contemporary issues and not necessarily events unfolding as I write.”

Early reviewers are recognizing the importance and relevance of the informational side of the novel. Picnic in the Ruins was featured as one of the Five Essential Literary Fiction Titles of January 2021 in Library Journal. Library Journal described the novel as, “An edgy black comedy examining crucial issues of appropriation and antiquities theft in America.”

The novel has also caught the attention of Kirkus Reviews. They described the novel as, “Part mystery; part quirky, darkly funny, mayhem-filled thriller; and part meditation on what it means to ‘own’ land, artifacts, and the narrative of history in the West… a fast-paced, highly entertaining hybrid of Tony Hillerman and Edward Abbey.”

Publisher’s Weekly also reviewed the novel saying, “Petersen (It Needs to Look Like We Tried) serves up a rollicking mystery full of heroes, mystics, petty criminals, and evil capitalists on the border of Utah and Arizona… Petersen’s offbeat adventure keeps the reader turning the pages.”

Dr. Petersen is a professor of English at Southern Utah University and teaches courses in English, film, and creative writing. Picnic in the Ruins will be published by Counterpoint Publishing on January 5, 2021. For more information, to pre-order the book, and to stay up to date on bookish events, visit Dr. Petersen’s author website.

Tags: College of Humanities and Social Sciences English

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