This ambitious, thoughtful novel about the generation that lost its way in the '60s stars a crusty, cynical North Carolina PI who gets entangled in two quests--one for a missing boyhood friend who has become a street preacher after a stretch in jail, the other for a serial killer who preys on girls at campgrounds. First novelist Hill delivers a fully realized portrait of Randolph Gatsby Sierra, who has kicked drugs, booze and cigarettes but still loves sex, blues and books. Randy has turned 180 degrees to the right; his complaints about the decline of Western civilization are offset only by his dedication to a moral code under which he tries to do good in a world dominated by evil. Today's kids, he believes, ``try to live in a TV commercial and it doesn't measure up, so they get high. It's Brave New World right here in River City.'' The former Navy SEAL and martial arts master is hired by old high-school friend Sarah Diehl, now a rich Florida widow, to find her ex-sweetheart and his friend Happy Fox, and to learn, if possible, why their generation has fallen from grace. Randy finds Happy in California, where his son, a onetime druggie, has vanished while trying to rescue a friend from Manson-like desperadoes and dope dealers in the wilderness. Randy and Happy arm themselves with the latest in military technology to hunt down the barbarians. In the process Randy learns that he has underestimated kids. His anticlimactic confrontation with the serial killer when he returns to North Carolina doesn't spoil this fine launch of a projected series. (Nov.)
Hill's second novel introduces North Carolina private investigator Gat Sierra, specializing in missing persons. Driving to meet his Siesta Key client, he crosses paths with a dangerous serial killer and notifies the police. His subsequent cross-country search for a missing high-school classmate delivers intermittent news of the killer, tales of renegade dope growers, and surprises about his client's rebellious daughter. Hill spins a smoothly absorbing (if slightly incredible) yarn, complete with compassion, romance, and angst.
An infectious sense of optimism and hope seeps from the pages of this ambitious first mystery. Maybe it's because of the sleuth. A decade lost to booze, drugs, and splintered idealism somehow hasn't managed to kill the spirit of private detective Randall Gatsby Sierra. Not that there hasn't been a price tag: he's lost a wife, a career or two, and pals like Happy, who went from rebel to criminal psychopath to Jesus freak. A phone call brings Randall back to his ramshackle past--to a childhood sweetheart, to Happy's sad trail, and in a weird kind of karma-soaked way, to the search for a serial killer working his way across country. New detectives come and go all the time, but Sierra is a true original. Yes, he has a weakness for talky, flower-power philosophizing (in the manner of the verbose disk jockey on television's "Northern Exposure"), but the dogged hope clearly visible beneath his jaded pessimism hits the reader like a blast of fresh mountain air. (In today's crime novels, latter-day hippies are typically portrayed as burned-out, low-grade villains.) Keep your eyes on Randy Sierra; he's a real comer.