Whether it’s 1893 or 2009, the town of Abandon, Colo., is a very nasty place to be.
When a novel opens with a little girl blowing away a mule skinner with a revolver, readers can safely expect more dirty work to come. And they get it in spades from Crouch (Locked Doors, 2005, etc.), who sets up two alternating, equally unsavory plotlines. In 2009, historian Lawrence Kendall takes along his journalist daughter Abigail Foster on an expedition to the Colorado ghost town whose inhabitants all vanished without a trace in December 1893. In those days, we see in the second narrative, Abandon is in decline, the nearby mine tapped out, though there are still plenty of prostitutes and gunslingers around—and local bigwig Bart Packer has 91 gold bars he found next to a headless Spanish skeleton stashed away in his fancy house. That conquistador gold will cause no end of trouble, as 19th-century desperados kill Packer and hide the gold in the mine, and 21st-century Iraq veterans brutalize Lawrence’s party in an effort to make the historian tell them where the gold is located. People are shot at point-blank range, knives are brandished, gruesome wounds inflicted, and it all gets fairly ridiculous after a while. One or two gotchas will make you jump: the bad guy you thought was dead who comes from behind with a dagger; the sheriff you thought would help who turns out to be one of Them. When a crazy preacher locking the entire Abandon population in the mine to starve is followed by the story of the woman whose husband cut out her tongue with a razor, or a post-traumatic, stressed-out Iraq veteran gets shot as he threatens for the umpteenth time to carve up Abigail in unspeakable ways, readers are likely to stop flinching and start laughing.
Definitely not for the squeamish—or skeptical.