In this series opener, a gruesome murder with far-reaching consequences unsettles a Texas town and brings together an attractive college professor and a young lawman intent on solving the case.
Before professor Claire Harp came to the state university in Alpine, Texas, a sophomore called Mote McCrary hiked up the Window Trail into the mountains of Big Bend National Park and leaped off a cliff. Mote’s professor and mentor, Michael Kincaid, subsequently rocked the publishing world with a much-lauded book based on conversations with the teen. The site of Mote’s death became a destination for young devotees of Kincaid’s literary triumph. When two of them persuade Claire to take them there, it turns out to be a distressing trip, made more disturbing on the way back when a coyote passes by with a woman’s hand in its mouth. Claire and Capt. Clayton Alton Shoot from the sheriff’s office find the rest of the remains the next day in a remote area of a wealthy rancher’s property. The dead woman turns out to be a part-time tech assistant at the university, notorious for her multiple affairs. The attraction between Claire and Clayton grows; meanwhile, the solution to the murder, obscured by an abundance of motives, is complicated by Alpine’s overly ambitious chief of police. Claire also finds herself on the trail of a second mystery that may or may not be related to the brutal crime. Rusz (How To Write Anything, 2019, etc.) deftly gives his characters substance and weaves humor and poignancy into escalating plot twists and turns. (Even the revelation of the perpetrator’s identity doesn’t quite lead where expected in the aftermath.) And the author, who clearly knows the territory, brings alive the book’s setting, the Trans-Pecos region of Texas, where readers can picture “a silhouette of mountains, purple and black against a sky that would not quite disappear, the horizon a bazaar of volcanic tents and towers” and the “northern fingers of the Chihuahuan desert reaching into Far West Texas.”
An absorbing, well-crafted mystery alive with colorful, substantive characters in a vivid setting.