Sheriff investigates a grisly death in a hardscrabble Montana setting.
Kip Edelson is the new sheriff in Mineral County and already he’s not fitting in. McHugh, proprietor of a historic local bar, senses Kip, unlike his predecessor, won’t condone McHugh’s pot-dealing sideline. Kip’s wife, Robin, wants to return to college in Missoula, and Kip’s resistance sours her on their marriage. The discovery of a skeleton, most likely that of a young woman, by ten-year-old Gray, distracts Kip from his personal crisis. An anonymous caller claims the victim’s name was Chris, and Kip compiles a list of women by that name. Gray, living with his father and pining for his absent mother, is arrested by the sheriff for starting a fire, and Kip realizes the boy is neglected and virtually starving. When his father takes a new wife, he disclaims paternity of Gray and foster care looms. Kip and Mrs. Sherwood, mother of one of the Chrises that Kip has already ruled out, begin an informal arrangement of caring for the boy. Meanwhile, Kip finds reclusive free spirit Chris Samuelson alluring. On the trail of Christen Vining, McHugh’s half-sister, Kip kills her drug-dealer husband in self-defense. Christen goes to jail and McHugh must sell everything to pay her legal expenses and Vining’s drug debts. McHugh nurses a guilty passion for his sister: They had a youthful incestuous relationship. Kip traces Gray’s mother to Las Vegas, but she ducks her responsibilities. When Kip threatens his wife’s lover at gunpoint, social workers intervene and Gray is forced into foster care. This frenetic story does not always bear up under close scrutiny, but Sharfeddin’s empathy for her characters and sense of place keeps the reader engrossed. Another crossed-off Chris, a trailer-park prostitute, knows more than is first apparent about the skeleton’s identity and Christen Vining’s true role in her late husband’s risky business. When Kip and Gray stumble into a confrontation between McHugh and the bad guys, a bang-up finish ensues.
A spellbinding, high-country thriller.