A young man proves to be a quick learner when it comes to killing and drug trafficking in Darby’s (The Beacon Brothers, 2017, etc.) rural crime novel.
Seth, a Midwestern farmworker, crouches in waist-high corn as he witnesses a stranger kill another man. The fearful young man stays hunkered down for hours, then runs to his truck only to find the killer sitting in it. He demands that Seth drive him first to Kansas City to connect with his cohort Vienna (“Like the sausages”) and then, eventually, to Montana. But first, he wants him to help load not one, but two bodies into the truck. Although initially Seth tries to escape from the unnamed murderer, he soon demonstrates a knack for doing his bidding, and he finds that he likes the money that the man pays him. Eventually, the man convinces Seth to permanently lock an associate in a shipping container and, later still, to kill someone. Once in Montana, Seth and the man’s other underlings (including Isabel, who’s “Indian, maybe a little bit Mexican” and very interesting to Seth) are tasked with traveling the Missouri River for two months in canoes packed with ketamine for a drug deal. For good reason, Seth is wary of his fellow drug traffickers; he also knows the man will kill him, like he killed others, if he disappoints him. Darby excels at describing details, identifying farm weeds as “mare’s tail” and “volunteer wheat,” noting the “plastic-on-plastic clicking sound” of playing video games, and remarking on the “fuzzy yellow cover on the toilet seat” in a low-rent house. The characterization throughout is strong and the pacing is good, with scenes of violence offset by those of the gang having a few beers, cooking spaghetti sauce, and sharing pizza. The yin and yang of loyalty and betrayal run through the novel until its disturbing end.
A dark, unsettling character study.