In Barney’s (Cutter, 2015) sequel novel, a consultant’s new gig as a parks and recreation director is tarnished by sordid colleagues, betrayal, and deceit.
When Carleton Humphrey, the mayor of (fictional) Columbus, Colorado, uses a parks director’s indiscretion to seize control of the department, a “nonpolitical commission of unpaid citizens” takes action. Its chairman, Hugh Stalter, hopes to recruit a director who isn’t local, so he asks Sandy Williams to take the job; she runs a consulting firm with her husband, Cutter, in Davenport, Iowa. Sandy, however, insists that Cutter is better with people and should take the position, but she still offers to help indirectly. Cutter goes on to make a fine director despite facing resistance from the mayor and from others who are upset that he knows little about parks. To offset waning budgets, Sandy suggests that Columbus host the Jacob Matthew Cup, a winter-sports competition, but Cutter’s idea to use the already existing Riverside Park for the event sets the town, and his life, into a tailspin. It turns out that Columbus’ safety officer, Jean Smith, prior to her death in a car accident, made an audio recording, now missing, of Mayor Humphrey discussing subjects including Riverside Park; meanwhile, regional newspaper reporter Ruth Roberts can’t get anyone to talk about the park, either. Behind it all is a secret that’s potentially devastating—particularly for Cutter, who could end up as a patsy. Despite the mystery surrounding Jean’s death and the missing recording, the novel concentrates mainly on Cutter’s occupational struggle, which involves garnering allies, such as City Council President Hammond “Ham and Eggs” Eggleston, and fairly standard complaints, such as inordinately long staff meetings. But although a chapter-length golf game and ski trip feel like asides, the novel comes together when Cutter faces duplicity from multiple people. There are a few twists, too, including the appearance of a key character, without whom Cutter might not have figured anything out. Cutter isn’t the most appealing protagonist, initially, thanks in part to some awful jokes he makes. But when readers spend time with his extended family—he’s one of eight siblings—he becomes a more invigorating character.
A twisty tale of an ordinary man overcoming treachery.