With Sheriff Bobby Torrez away on a course, newly appointed Undersheriff Estelle Reyes-Guzman is suddenly top banana in Posadas County law enforcement. Keeping the peace in her under-populated, not-exactly-urban corner of New Mexico is seldom challenging, but life is full of little surprises. Two of them turn out to be nasty indeed, as bright but beleaguered Estelle learns when she responds to her dispatcher and drives southeast to a blighted patch of prairie, thinking that “an enterprising goat would have to work hard to keep his belly off his backbone here.” Nevertheless, a pair of corpses—courtesy of bullets from a Remington .44—are in evidence: both male, both young, both Mexican. How they managed to get where almost no one goes is only one of the perplexing questions for Estelle. There’s also the business of the late Denton Pope, who seems to have unexpectedly self-destructed while innocently engaged in arson. How to explain Denton’s complex relationship to a bogus insurance company? Or the bizarre presence of a sizable herd of miniature donkeys—upwards of 200—in his backyard? Arriving from the wings, retired Sheriff Bill Gastner, that endlessly affable hero—and series protagonist until now (Big Limit, 2001, etc.)—appears in a timely walk-on to help grateful Estelle at least make sense of the donkey business.
A bit light on plot, as usual, but there’s solid pleasure to be derived from Havill’s consistently good writing, colorful cast, and dead-on sense of place.