Extremely peculiar blend of murder investigation, travel jottings, and hallucinatory ravings--by a vastly talented western writer (Mescal, Blue Desert, etc.) whose publicity photo shows a grizzled, grinning face beneath a hat that reads ""Rednecks for Social Responsibility."" Opening shot: our author staggers through a near-freezing, February Mexican landscape in shorts and a T-shirt, a 60-pound pack on his back. Odd? But this is as close to normal as it gets. ""I strike Mexican Highway 2 and enter the small cafe. Out front a yellow dog eats a dead dog."" Scenes of mistrust, confusion, decay: ""My legs are a patchwork of scars from thorns and barbed wire. My face is a rain from the wind and cold. My eyes are hard crystals that cannot focus. . ."" Why not just go home? Because ""I have no home. No one does anymore."" From this purgatorial world a story emerges, of two men killed the same day that Bowden's son is born. One of them intrigues our author: a Mexican multiple murderer named Ignacio Robles Valencia, or ""Nacho."" Bowden and a friend spend much time tracking down Nacho's history; while their discoveries shed little light on a life of apparently boundless misery (Nacho performed his first assassination at age 13), they allow Bowden to shoot out laserlike passages about Mexico, destiny, women, decrepit desert towns, whatever catches his bloodshot eye. So, too, does a 200-mile trek across ""the summer flame of the desert"" following the trail of the '49ers (""Nothing beckons, every direction promises more of the same. I sleep deeply in the dunes. Always. Here I am safe""). Endlessly depressing, although the ferocious accuracy and balance of Bowden's prose is itself cause for cheering. This man could use a trip to Disneyland.