Minotaur Books, 2014, 292 pages
Winner of the Tony Hillerman Prize, Bad Country is a debut mystery set in the Southwest starring a former rodeo cowboy turned private investigator, told in a transfixingly original style.
Rodeo Grace Garnet lives alone, save for his old dog, in a remote corner of Arizona known to locals as the Hole. He doesn't get many visitors, but a body found near his home has drawn police attention to his front door. The victim is not one of the many illegal immigrants who risk their lives to cross the border just south of the Hole, but is instead a member of one of the local Indian tribes.
Retired from the rodeo circuit and scraping by on piecework as a private investigator, Rodeo doesn't have much choice but to say yes when offered an unusual case. An elderly Indian woman has hired him to help find who murdered her grandson, but she seems strangely uninterested in the results. Her indifference seems heartless, but as Rodeo pursues his case, he learns that it's nothing compared to true hatred - and he's about to realize just how far hate can go.
C. B. McKenzie's Bad Country captures the rough-and-tumble corners of the Southwest in accomplished, confident prose, with a hard-nosed plot that will keep readers riveted.
Rodeo Grace Garnet is an ex-rodeo cowboy who now scrabbles together a living with occasional PI work in the boonies of the American Southwest. He lives right on the Mexican border, way out in the sparsely inhabited badlands, where illegals cross through his land and bad people can do things out of sight. So while he's not exactly surprised when he finds a body on his property, it soon turns into something more than just another unfortunate illegal border crosser.
All mystery series set in the American Southwest get compared to Tony Hillerman's Navajo series, but I think this book is much more akin to J.A. Jance's Joanna Brady series. Rodeo, like Sheriff Brady, spends lots of time in Bisbee and other small Arizona towns, and has to deal with a largely rural, poor, mixed race population full of cultural and economic flashpoints, and the occasional entitled rich dude (usually white) who always seems to be a nexus of trouble, even if not the actual murderer.
C.B. McKenzie is a better writer than J.A. Jance, and I think this book was better than the last few Hillerman novels (in which Tony was, frankly, phoning it in). That said, I liked this book but it didn't really draw me into Rodeo's world to the extent that I am eager to follow his continuing adventures. He's just another busted up, broke semi-drifter in the Southwest. He has a personality and a code of ethics and he stands his ground and gets things done, even in the face of opposition from the local police, the local political power broker, the local murderous psychopath, and unexpected visits from his crazy psychobitch ex-girlfriend, but I still didn't really like him much. Even if he does have a soft spot for his old dog.
Usually I like Southwest stories - I'd like to retire there someday. This one was okay and I will probably try C.B. McKenzie again, but my reaction to this book was lukewarm, despite a good cast of characters and a well-executed plot.
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