The confusions of youth shape tragic, unhappy lives in this somber, absorbing second novel.
As he did in Over Tumbled Graves (2001), Walter uses the terse police procedural as framework for what becomes a flowing story of character. Spokane police detective Caroline Mabry (returning from Graves) confronts a man, Clark Mason, who wants to confess to murder. Insisting he write his confession, Mason fills legal pads with his “Statement of Fact,” which turns into a fevered autobiography in which his vision—and that of the other characters—is scarcely factual, much less perceptive. (A childhood bully has blinded one of Mason’s eyes.) Mason writes that his victim was Eli Boyle, a friend since childhood. Bearing a limp, a lisp, crossed eyes, and a snowstorm of dandruff, Boyle is the ultimate class nerd—until a swift, winning play at battle ball transforms him into a school hero. When Boyle asks Mason to rehabilitate him, Mason complies, setting him up with blossoming Dana Brett. Mason, though, finds Brett irresistible. Come prom night, Boyle discovers the two making love, and tensions thereafter rive all three of them. Brett marries a dull, aggressive man, Mason seeks direction in his life through politics, and Boyle retreats into a strange interactive character game called “Empire.” He and Mason hatch a plan to develop “Empire” into video game that leads to Boyle’s death. Offsetting Mason’s dark meditations (and nimbly steering the book itself away from ponderous terrain) are several interjected chapters tracing Mabry’s investigation into the case. Depressed by her violent work and unhappy personal life, Mabry identifies uneasily with Mason. As he sits on the high ledge of a hotel, Mabry crawls out and joins him to watch the sun rise over a bleak city.
Walter renders his blind land with a clear-eyed, compassionate vision.