Scratchgravel Road: A Mystery

Scratchgravel Road: A Mystery

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by Tricia Fields

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The twisty follow-up to the Hillerman Prize–winning The Territory, featuring tough smalltown Texas police chief Josie Gray

It was pure luck that Josie Gray spotted Cassidy Harper's car, abandoned on the side of the road. If she hadn't, then she'd never have found Cassidy, lying nearly dead of heatstroke on the desert sand beside the body of a Mexican

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The twisty follow-up to the Hillerman Prize–winning The Territory, featuring tough smalltown Texas police chief Josie Gray

It was pure luck that Josie Gray spotted Cassidy Harper's car, abandoned on the side of the road. If she hadn't, then she'd never have found Cassidy, lying nearly dead of heatstroke on the desert sand beside the body of a Mexican immigrant. But Cassidy can't explain why she was out for a walk in the midday desert heat, let alone how she happened upon the corpse. And once Josie sees the ominous wounds on the man's body, she knows she needs to find the answer fast, before her own life is in danger.

Tricia Fields's The Territory marked her as talented new author of Southwestern crime, and Scratchgravel Road marks an inventive new mystery set in the unique world of smalltown Texas.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Fields sounds a warning on industrial dangers and their wide-ranging effects on ordinary people in this engrossing follow-up to her Hillerman Prize–winning debut, The Territory (2011). When Artemis, Tex., police chief Josie Gray comes across unconscious store clerk Cassidy Harper in the desert, Josie also spots the decaying corpse of immigrant Juan Santiago lying nearby, his body bearing sores of unknown origin. Cassidy later claims to have stumbled on Juan while on a walk, though his wallet is found in her car. Josie suspects the involvement of Leo Monaco, Cassidy’s deadbeat boyfriend, and Enrico Gomez, a local tough dating a colleague’s daughter. Also coming under Josie’s scrutiny are Juan’s quiet, Spartan life and the activities of Juan’s employer, Beacon Pathways, which is cleaning up a hazardous waste site in the area and may be conducting more nefarious operations. A tense climax with a flood, mudslide, explosives, and a possible murderer add to the suspense. Agent: Dominick Abel, Dominick Abel Literary Agency. (Mar.)
From the Publisher

“Captivating. … Fields deftly balances the intriguing intimate relationships among her characters with the broader themes of industrial corruption and greed. With her wild desert settings and her thrilling plot, Fields' novel is situated somewhere between Western terrain and mystery territory.” —Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

“Full of nonstop action … Fields's second crime novel will be a sure hit with mystery fans who miss the late Hillerman and readers who love contemporary Westerns.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“As in Fields’ Tony Hillerman Prize–winning debut: carefully integrated red herrings, a tinge of romance and dead-on descriptions of West Texas weather—oppressive heat, weeklong downpours and earth-obliterating mudslides.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Noteworthy for the delineation of the west Texas desert country and the well-drawn cast of characters; Josie Gray is a protagonist worth following.” —Booklist

“Fields sounds a warning on industrial dangers and their wide-ranging effects on ordinary people in this engrossing follow-up to her Hillerman Prize–winning debut, The Territory. … A tense climax with a flood, mudslide, explosives, and a possible murderer add to the suspense.” —Publishers Weekly

“This author was born in Hawaii and lives in Indiana, but she's earned a spot as an honorary Texan. Her series featuring police chief Josie Gray vividly brings Artemis, a West Texas border town, to life.” —Star-Telegram

“Some readers might think they have the mystery figured out early on, but they should keep reading. Fields has a couple surprises in store.” —Dallas Morning News

Scratchgravel Road is a fast-paced, action-packed mystery that is quite frightening. … Tricia Fields has ripped the headlines from today's newspapers, created an intense, fast-paced plot, and fleshed it out with realistic characters, both good and bad. Highly recommended for mystery lovers who crave a lot of action and drama, Scratchgravel Road will take readers on an unforgettable journey” —Gumshoe Review

Library Journal
Fresh from fighting a Mexican drug cartel (the Tony Hillerman Prize–winning The Territory), small-town Texas police chief Josie Gray finds herself facing myriad new adventures. After discovering the dead body of a Mexican immigrant in the desert, Josie seeks connections between him and several members of the local community including a former employee of the police department, the daughter of a police deputy, an unemployed college science professor, and the company cleaning up a local nuclear facility. Full of nonstop action, the plot not only involves Josie’s careful investigative work but also takes her across the border to save a young girl. Still, the heart of the story lies at the abandoned nuclear plant, which is threatened by floods. For Josie, it’s now a race against Mother Nature and a murderer.

Verdict Fields’s second crime novel will be a sure hit with mystery fans who miss the late Hillerman and readers who love contemporary Westerns. [See Prepub Alert, 10/8/12.]—Patricia Ann Owens, Illinois Eastern Community Colls., Mt. Carmel

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
Welcome to West Texas, where a nuclear plant is being dismantled, a young lady takes a walk in the desert in 104-degree heat, and a corpse is dumped along the route usually favored by drug mules and coyotes. Artemis Police Chief Josie Gray has her hands full. Rain-fed floods menace the Feed Plant, the abandoned nuclear waste facility Beacon Pathways is cleaning up. Cassidy Harper nearly succumbs to heat stroke but won't admit why she was reconnoitering the area near the Hollow. And Officer Marta Cruz is having trouble controlling her daughter Teresa, who bails out her meth-addicted boyfriend. Unfortunately, matters are about to get worse. A body is found with no identification but wearing protective boots issued to employees cleaning up the nuclear site. Putrid lesions run up his arms, and an autopsy reveals that his gastrointestinal tract has been eaten away. Diego Paiva, plant supervisor, insists that his safety measures are top-notch, but could there have been a lapse in security for those men working on the vitrification project in Unit Seven? The dead man's wallet winds up in Cassidy's car, his last wages turn up in her boyfriend's secret bank account, and the co-worker who drove him to the job every day develops similar burn marks on his wrist. But the questions of who killed the unlucky Juan Santiago and why will have to wait while Chief Gray illegally crosses into Mexico to retrieve a rebellious teen and returns to deal with the torrential flooding that threatens to demolish the Feed Plant, spewing toxic waste everywhere. As in Fields' Tony Hillerman Prize–winning debut (The Territory, 2011): carefully integrated red herrings, a tinge of romance and dead-on descriptions of West Texas weather--oppressive heat, weeklong downpours and earth-obliterating mudslides.

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Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Josie Gray Mysteries Series, #2
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Scratchgravel Road

A Mystery
By Tricia Fields

Minotaur Books

Copyright © 2013 Tricia Fields
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781250021366


Teresa Cruz knew that people watched her. There’s nothing more satisfying than catching a cop’s kid, her mom had told her. Yet here she was, standing in front of a pickup truck an hour past town curfew, with Enrico Gomez, the twenty-year-old guy her mother had forbidden her from seeing.
“No cars past here,” he said, pointing down into the Hollow.
Teresa looked out into the black desert but could see nothing. She had cotton mouth and her eyes stung from the hot night wind. She felt Enrico fumble in the dark for her hand, then wrap her fingers inside his.
“You scared?” he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
She shrugged, not trusting her voice.
“Stay with me, you’ll be fine. Everybody’s cool. We walk down a slope into the Hollow. Can’t see it from the road. Cops don’t even know it’s here.”
Teresa’s throat constricted.
“Even if she drove by here she couldn’t see the cars from Scratchgravel.”
She turned away from him. He had misjudged her silence.
He dropped her hand and dug into his front pocket. “I got a surprise. Hold your hand out flat.”
She held her palm out and watched him twist open the top of a small container. He laid a round mirror in her hand and she forced herself not to pull back.
She felt suddenly self-conscious, too young in her shorts and flip-flops and tank top. She wore her black hair straight, falling just below her shoulder blades, and worried Enrico’s friends would look down on her—just some sixteen-year-old girl. She had no idea who would be there but was too proud to ask.
“Hold still,” he said.
She held her hand motionless, torn between the fear of getting caught and the thrill of watching.
In his other hand he flipped open his cell phone and shone the dim light onto the mirror, where he tapped out a line from the container. He handed her his cell phone and she held the light over his hand as he tightened the lid on the small vial, stuffed it back in his pocket, then bent over her hand and used a thin straw to snort the powder into his nose.
Teresa felt nauseous. She had crossed a line her mother would never forgive, certainly never understand.
In the pale light Teresa watched him shove his hand back into his front pocket. “Want a hit?”
She shook her head.
“You ever done a line?” he asked.
She said nothing.
“Come on, girl. You’ll feel like Superman. Feel like you can do anything. Just a small one.”
He unscrewed the lid and her skin prickled.
“Let’s just go,” she said.
He hesitated and then replaced the lid and shoved it back in his pocket. She should have told him the truth—she didn’t want it. She liked Enrico, but she didn’t like the person she became when she was with him.
He walked back to the truck’s driver-side door and she listened as he turned the key and rolled the windows up, then locked the doors.
It was a warm July night and the air felt hot on her skin. The sky was wide open with a three-quarter moon that cast a deep purple light, revealing the jagged shadows of desert cactus and low-lying mountain ranges in the distance.
He came back and stood in front of her. “You know anyone who’s been out here?”
Like most high school kids, she had heard of the Hollow but never been. It was a desert hideout accessible by invitation only. A kid didn’t wander into the Hollow without being asked first by a regular. By someone who had already been accepted. Rumors ran through school about what went on: drugs, sex, alcohol, but it was the allure of the unknown that made kids talk.
She shook her head no.
“That’s cool. Just relax. Street etiquette, right?”
“I know.” She did not know. She had no idea what she would say. She felt entirely out of place and wanted him to promise not to leave her side.
Taking her hand again, he laced his fingers between her own and began walking.
Enrico pointed toward the land in front of them. “Look. You don’t need lights now.”
Teresa made out the silhouettes of two small mountain ranges to the north. Creosote bushes, agave, Spanish daggers, and mesquite clumps blended with large boulders that disguised vehicles from view. Enrico was right; her eyes had adjusted and the land spread out before her like a movie screen. It was the same desert she’d grown up in, but everything looked different. The boulders and bushes she wouldn’t have given a second thought to in the daylight now appeared to hide things inside their shadows.
“How will you find the truck with no lights?” she asked.
Enrico laughed. “You stick by me. Ain’t nothing to worry about.”
His hair was cut military style, short on the sides, longer on top, and he wore the loose jeans and tight shirt of guys who claimed gang status. She could feel the energy buzzing through his body, his grip on her hand so tight it hurt.
As he pulled her along she struggled to keep her bearings, beginning to feel anxious that she couldn’t find her way out on her own. Enrico had pulled off of Scratchgravel Road onto an arroyo that she hadn’t even known existed. He had put the truck into four-wheel drive and followed the arroyo heading east for close to a mile before stopping. There were a half-dozen trucks and Jeeps parked behind the tail end of a small mountain range that appeared to have been chopped into pieces. It made good cover for the vehicles and the Hollow that lay somewhere on the other side.
Enrico laid his arm over her shoulder and it felt heavy. He was built thick and worked out obsessively. She struggled to keep up with him, worrying she would trip over a cactus, leaving cuts that she would struggle to explain to her mother the next day.
She smelled the sweet musky smoke before she saw the faint light from the bonfire in the distance. Enrico put a finger to his lips and they listened to hushed laughter, maybe fifty feet in front of them. She couldn’t tell if the voices’ owners were walking or were inside a vehicle. After a few seconds the sounds faded into the distance.
With no city lights the stars and moon lit the desert floor a soft gray. The ground appeared to be reflecting back the absorbed light from the sun’s afternoon glare. The light from the fire, still partially hidden behind a large boulder, appeared bright suddenly.
“It’s a half-mile walk from here. You cool?” he asked.
“I’m fine.”
“Watch for the long skinny cactus. They rip into your skin like a fishing hook. Hurts like hell to pull them out.”
Enrico stopped suddenly and Teresa ran into his side. He pointed to his left, toward the road, in the direction of an approaching vehicle. “Hold up. Truck’s coming.”
They stood and watched the yellow parking lights of a dark-colored, full-size pickup as it drove slowly forward, just to the north of them. Without a word, they both crouched in the sand and watched the truck slow to a crawl, then circle behind a large thick grove of bushes roughly thirty feet in front of them.
“Don’t you know all these people?” she whispered.
“Nobody comes to the Hollow off Scratchgravel like that,” he said, pointing in the direction of the truck. “Got to be safe.”
She wondered what he meant. Safe from the cops?
The truck stopped. The driver exited, slammed the door, and walked to the back end.
“What the hell’s this guy doing?” Enrico said.
Teresa could feel his arm tense against hers like he was ready to take off after the guy in the truck. Enrico had an intensity that she respected, like he could handle anything.
The man laid the tailgate down and dragged something forward. They heard him grunt, obviously struggling with the load. Teresa wondered if they were watching a drug exchange. The Rio Grande, the border to Mexico, was less than a mile away, and crossing it in the middle of nowhere was no big deal. The Border Patrol rarely made it to Artemis. With two thousand miles of international border their little town barely got noticed, and drug mules and coyotes transporting illegals were part of life.
The man at the back of the truck continued to struggle for another minute, and then they heard a heavy thud as the load hit the ground. The man bent and worked for several seconds arranging something, then stood abruptly, shut the tailgate, and walked back to the driver’s side. They listened as he shoved the truck into gear and drove slowly away, around the bushes and back the same way he came, straight back out to the road.
Enrico stood and Teresa grabbed ahold of the back of his shirt. “Maybe we should turn back. If that’s a load of weed we should get out of here.”
Instead, he walked forward, toward the dark mass lying on the ground. Teresa followed a few feet behind him.
Enrico stopped suddenly and threw his arm out to stop her. “Son of a bitch.”
Looking over his shoulder, she gasped and stifled a scream into her fist.

Copyright © 2013 by Tricia Fields


Excerpted from Scratchgravel Road by Tricia Fields Copyright © 2013 by Tricia Fields. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

TRICIA FIELDS lives in a log cabin on a small farm with her husband and two daughters. She was born in Hawaii but has spent most of her life in small town Indiana, where her husband is a state trooper. She won the Tony Hillerman Prize for her first mystery, The Territory, which was also named a Sun-Sentinel Best Mystery Debut of the Year.

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Scratchgravel Road: A Mystery 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Mystery-reader13 More than 1 year ago
Just finished this 2nd book in the series and loved it! I read the first book a year ago and enjoyed it. I thought the 2nd book was even better. The first book sets up the town and the cartel. It explains "The Territory" as a place along the border with Mexico and all the cartel drama that comes with that. I thought this was an even better overall mystery. I loved the connection to the closed nuclear weapons factory. Very original storyline and was happy that Josie and the basic cast of characters was back. I heard the author speak at Bouchercon and was impressed. She has a new book with the series coming out sometime later this year. I would definitely recommend the series.
4212LM More than 1 year ago
Was very disappointed in this novel. Purchased after reading her first effort. Did not have the good story line nor did it keep you reading to find out what happens next. I found myself skimming through pages trying to get to a more exciting stage of the story. I would not recommend this book to anyone and I shall wait to order any future effort by the author until it has been out for a while and readers have had a chance to review it.