This detective novel by the genre-bending author is like a series of card tricks in which no one is playing with a full deck.
The latest from Everett (I Am Not Sidney Poitier, 2009, etc.) has all the markings of a mystery novel: a detective, a series of crimes, a sense that people and events might be connected in ways that aren’t initially evident. At least such are the assumptions of deputy sheriff Ogden Walker, a black man amid the desert of New Mexico, where most others are white, “in that hick-full, redneck county,” but are more often distinguished by their drug habits (primarily meth) and lack of teeth, limbs or both. Readers this world through the eyes of Ogden and will agree with his mother that “You’re a good man, Ogden. There are not a lot of good men around.” But he’s not necessarily a good detective, or maybe the very notion of cause-and-effect, the underpinnings of the classic detective novel, is suspect. The book is divided into three cases, each separate from the others, and none really solved in a conventional sense by Walker and his occasional partner Warren (an Indian who refers to Walker as “cowboy”). In fact, each ends abruptly, surprisingly, without culminating in an accumulation of evidence. When the trail of a suspect leads to a series of dead ends, Ogden realizes that “the longer he drove around Denver, asking his stupid questions, the less he knew what he was doing. And he’d only been there a day; how much could he not know in a week?” Ultimately, readers come to suspect that perhaps Ogden doesn’t know himself and that neither do those with whom he works and lives. There are recurring motifs—shifting or mistaken identities, women who initially might seem like a suitable wife for Ogden, mothers, disappearing suspects (or bodies), drug conspiracies and big stashes of cash. Yet not until the last couple of pages does anything add up.
Fun to read, but frustrating for those who look for the usual pleasures from detective fiction.