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Mountain-climbers, marijuana and murder are the ingredients of this first novel, an unsuccessful splice of a suspense story and an investigation of a subculture; a similar confusion of purpose beset Long's non-fiction account of ""mountain-man"" Claude Dallas (Outlaw, 1984). It is the climbers of Yosemite Valley who form the ""hard-core, high-voltage subculture"" that so fascinates Long (a climber himself). Away from the wall, these ""rock jocks"" are a feckless bunch, living in a squalid year-round camp; the Camp Four bums is what the Park Service rangers call them. The dominant personalities are the protagonist, the half-Indian John Dog Coloradas, and his bitter rival Matt Kresinski; both in their late 20s, they are already being eclipsed as climbers by the intense, virginal Tucker, a virtuoso al 18. Three climbs are covered in detail; when Long sticks to such arcana of the sport as pro, topos and timebombs, he is low-key and effective. However, around the halfway point, his pasted-on melodrama takes over. John's ranger girlfriend Liz has discovered the cargo of a small plane wrecked in a mountain lake: marijuana. The rangers, showing unbelievable nonchalance, allow the climbers to make off with four thousand pounds (street value: a million and a half bucks). Kresinksi finds a stash of cocaine but keeps it a secret (""coke was a demon riding him into the deeps""). The dead pilot's twin brother comes out of nowhere to retrieve the coke, and offs climbers who can't deliver; there is a go-for-broke mountaintop climax involving John, Kresinski and the Terrible Twin. The final body count is either four or six, depending on whether John and Liz survive hypothermia. When he is not trying to be a composite of Tom Wolfe and Robert Stone, Long can do good work (Tucker, for example, is a well-realized characterization); but clearly he has yet to find his own voice.

Pub Date: June 19th, 1987
Publisher: Beech Tree/Morrow