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In ‘Light on Bone,’ casting a famous artist as an amateur sleuth

Kathryn Lasky’s new mystery imagines what would happen if Georgia O’Keeffe discovered a dead body in the desert

David Wilson for the Boston Globe

Kathryn Lasky has written more than 100 books, most of them for children — among them, the popular “Guardians of Ga’hoole” series — but her latest title is strictly for grown-ups. In “Light on Bone” (Woodhall Press), Lasky creates an intricate historical mystery starring the artist Georgia O’Keeffe as an amateur sleuth.

Lasky fell in love with O’Keeffe’s work while on a post-college graduation trip to New York with her mother. She hadn’t previously considered herself a fan, even balking when her mother suggested the museum visit, but seeing the works up close changed her.

“I was in awe. I think you have to see those paintings in person, you have to sort of fall into those huge flowers,” said Lasky. “I felt like I was floating.”


Several years ago, Lasky wrote “Georgia Rises,” a picture book for young readers about the artist’s life in her small adobe house in Abiquiu, N.M. With “Light on Bone,” she returns to the landscape where O’Keeffe sought solace following a breakdown in the 1930s.

“I thought, what would happen if she discovered a dead body in the desert? So that was the start to the book,” said Lasky, who crafted a plot involving German and British spies, Charles Lindbergh, and the local population, people trying to hold onto their Indigenous culture amid a burgeoning tourist trade.

Many of the book’s details come from real life. “I always do a lot of research. It’s sort of my favorite thing,” said Lasky. But writing a mystery has its own unique challenges. “I know who committed the crime,” she added, when she starts writing. “A lot of the work is distracting people. I just have to inch along.”

COVID-19 prevented Lasky, who lives in Cambridge, from doing New Mexico research in person, but she’s visited many times before. Even though she’s not a painter herself, she understood how much O’Keeffe valued the artistic qualities of the landscape. “One of the major features of the land is the light. The light is phenomenal.”


Kathryn Lasky will read in person at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Brookline Booksmith, where she will be joined by Hank Phillippi Ryan.

Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.