Rodeo Grace Garnet and his old dog live in a long ago abandoned office of a planned community trailer park originally known, according to the faded sign skewered on a splintered pole, as “Vista Montana Estates–An Active Life Community.” Considering this is Arizona the use of “Montana” might be just one of the many reasons the project failed. Not only is there no community, the only things active on this day is Rodeo, his dog, and the engine on the aging truck they sit inside as they contemplate the male corpse faced down in the dirt in front of them. The body isn’t going to go anywhere so Rodeo heads back down the road to find cell phone reception. Once he is able to call it in to Los Jarros County Sheriff “Apache” Ray Molina he is told that Rodeo’s dead body is going to have to wait a bit longer in the blistering Arizona sun because the Sheriff and everyone he has to use is over at the place known as “The Boulder Turn-Out” with another dead body. It has been a bad few days in the county as these are not the only two bodies found recently.
Rodeo Grace Garnet likes his privacy, and for good reason, and therefore lives as far away from others as possible in an area the locals call “El Hoyo” or “The Hole.” There is more than a hint of noir and loneliness to the old rodeo cowboy who feels the pains every day of his bull riding past. Unfortunately, having a dead body at the gates to his place brings the police and unwanted attention.
Considering some of the things that Rodeo has been involved in due to his assorted low paying and sporadic jobs of bounty hunter, warrant server, and private investigator, situations have not always gone as well as they should have. Garnett has quite a reputation in the area and some of it is decidedly negative. A dead body outside his gates is another problem and makes him a murder suspect in the mind of some. Not that he really cares what most folks think even when it comes down to getting a job. He does have quite a few bills to pay, not much in the bank, and private detective Rodeo Grace Garnett needs to work. Good thing he knows a few people across Arizona and they don’t have much choice in detectives and don’t trust outsiders.
A recent winner of the Spur Award, The Tony Hillerman Prize, as well as an Edgar Award nominee, author CB McKenzie’s debut novel is a good one. A highly atmospheric read, this novel takes readers on a mystery unlike many others. Part of that is the stylistic choice of all narration with no use of quotation marks to set off the dialogue, a lack of attribution in many cases, as well as the occasional run on sentence. A significant part of that is due to the noir loner character of Rodeo Grace Garnet who clearly prefers his time alone with his elderly dog under the wide open desert vistas to his occasional efforts at communicating with other people. Not only does Garnet hate to talk to folks, many of the characters involved are Native American and depicted as having limited language skills. Therefore, at times, the dialogue is a bit clunky and does not flow well.
The above makes this a read that does not work for some folks if a quick survey of various one and two sentence reviews with as many stars is indicative of anything. The dialogue bothers some as does the occasional run on sentence as well as the few typos. Most seem to reference a lack of editing while not understanding that the dialogue/narration issue is the author’s style and therefore editing of said book should not change the author’s style. It is also interesting to note that despite the fact that so many readers on various lists claim that it is the kiss of death to kill, or in this case injure a beloved pet, those who are reviewing this book pro or con are not mentioning the dog’s injury that occurs late in the read.
While some would and have used the phrase “transcends the genre” and ones like it to describe Bad Country (which will drive some folks absolutely nuts), the phrase not only compliments the work, it also explains the situation accurately. Bad Country by CB McKenzie, is a solidly good read that is just a bit different from many crime and or mystery novels. One does hope this is the successful start to a possible series.
A Thomas Dunne Book (Minotaur Books)
Hardback (also available in e-book and audio formats)
Material supplied by the good folks of the Plano Public Library System.
Kevin R. Tipple ©2015