Lenz’s evocative, character-driven thriller of desert justice and indigenous ways finds half-Apache policeman Frank Gaines discovering a threat to the therapist for whom he harbors feelings, the striking Sunny Kacheenay, and eventually setting out on a deadly manhunt touched with the mystic. Arriving for a therapy session, Frank finds an envelope containing the threat beneath Sunny’s door and discovers its source, to his dismay, seems to be a fellow patient, Geneva Wright. Meanwhile, Jason Flint, Sunny’s landlord and Geneva’s abusive boyfriend, is forcing the evictions of local residents. When Gordon Cody ends his life because of Jason’s purchase, Frank discovers that he is the only living maternal relative of the dead man—and Apache law demands he kill the person responsible.
Set amid the “ghostly forms of the cliffs and mesas” of Southeast Arizona, the novel boasts striking descriptions of the desert, itself something of a character, mysterious and powerful with its own intentions and interventions in people’s lives. Lenz employs a host of perspective characters, offering a multifaceted view not just of the twisting plot but of life as each lives it, stirring reader sympathy towards each, even the villainous Jason Flint. That narrative richness demands that readers keep up, of course, though the transitions and the narrative logic behind them is clear throughout.
The characters are all well rounded, and the telling is nuanced. Though a fresh murder seems imminent, and the crimes of the past loom large in everyone’s lives, Lenz’s pacing—always even, never frantic—keeps the story absorbing until an ending that edges toward the mystic without ever breaking the rules of realism. The author touches on issues of deep injustice done to the native inhabitants of the American continent, with particular emphasis on the Apache. Knotty questions of reparation, justice, and the ever-present shadow of discrimination give resonance to this well told-tale.
Takeaway: An absorbing tale of mystery and revenge in the Arizona desert, with a Native American cast.
Great for fans of: Stephen Graham Jones’s All the Beautiful Sinners, Louis Owens’s The Sharpest Sight.
Production grades Cover: A Design and typography: A Illustrations: N/A Editing: A- Marketing copy: A
In this desert thriller, an Arizona police detective questioning his courage investigates a relative’s death.
Some consider Frank Gaines a hero for his bravery in a hostage situation. But it’s all a front; he feels “afraid half the time” and has been seeing Apache psychotherapist Sunny Kacheenay for a year and a half. He talks in sessions about old and ongoing police cases and dreams as well as about the phone call from the widow of his great-uncle, who’s dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot. Sunny deciphers his great-aunt’s essential message—it’s Gaines’ “sacred duty,” as part Apache, to torture and kill whoever is responsible for the suicide. The detective quickly eyes Jason Flint, Sunny’s landlord, who, for some reason, unnerves Gaines. But as he’s still a cop, Gaines struggles with his choices. Meanwhile, Flint’s malice seems to permeate everyone’s lives and minds, and other locals, from a woman who’s already done a stint for manslaughter to one of Sunny’s patients, soon enter the fray. Lenz aptly fuses a procedural with dreamlike sequences filled with meaning, such as Gaines’ seeing Sunny’s 6-year-old son, who died in a car accident. The many characters involved intersect in intriguing ways, sometimes literally passing one another at Sunny’s office. But what really grounds the story are the players’ intricate roots. Gaines, for example, as half Native American and half White, feels like something of an outcast, and even his dog, a rescue, is a rare (and illegal) coydog. The author offers evocative details about the arid but beautiful desert landscape, which features a “scarred tract of rocks and sagebrush, beyond an immense field of cactus, maturing lavishly in the remains of a many-years-ago flash flood, and stretching for miles all the way to the cliffs.” The final act accelerates in intensity, though Lenz tempers much of the violence throughout.
Spirited, interwoven characters enrich this sharply written mystery.