Black’s debut crime novel offers complicated, compelling characters.
Mikey, Benny and Mary are three friends who were raised in the same trailer park in similarly broken families. Their parents were alcoholics, prostitutes or completely absent. During high school, in order to make enough money to survive, Mikey and Benny trafficked drugs for a local kingpin, Tony Richards. When it came time to graduate, Mikey and Benny joined the Marines, while Mary, only 16 at the time, was forced to marry Tony to escape her abusive home. As the novel begins, Benny and Mikey return to Missoula to kill Tony and escape with Mary; they have a plan to start a farm together in Canada. The two former Marines succeed in killing Tony, along with his primary associates, which puts Missoula Police Detective Thomas Catlin and his partner, Sgt. Delores Delaney, on their trail. Thomas Catlin leads a fairly solitary life, but the intricacies of his personality are revealed methodically, and rewardingly, throughout the story. Mary eventually manages to earn Catlin’s sympathy, and she offers him a book containing all of Tony’s criminal contacts in exchange for leniency in his pursuit. Unfortunately, nothing goes according to plan, as Tony’s book provokes attacks from unknown entities. The author describes Mikey, Benny and Mary in ways that are clearly meant to elicit empathy from the reader, and in many ways, it feels justified. The novel’s isolated Montana setting and the trailer-park backgrounds of the main characters give the novel a grim realism. Mikey’s, Benny’s and Mary’s dispassionate attitudes toward murder, however, may be too off-putting for readers to see them as sympathetic victims enacting justice. Readers may also find that the story offers relatively few dramatic twists, and its conclusion seems a bit rushed and inconsequential, despite the well-developed characters.
An often engaging, if uneven, mystery novel.