Former nonfiction writer Hewitt’s (Rescuing Slaves of the Watchtower, 2011, etc.) grasp of Lone Star State peculiarities—Tex-Mex culture and politics; things only oilmen know—highlight this messy, 1970s murder mystery.
At first glance, it appears to be a case of drug-lord retribution: 32-year-old Texas Ranger Enrique “Gar” Garcia locked up Hispanic politician Reynaldo Diaz for marijuana smuggling and now, unbeknownst to him, he’s being tailed by Diaz’s revenge-bent brothers. But the plot shifts when, after posting bail, Diaz is offed by assassins posing as FBI agents. The murder is an over-the-top horror, with Diaz noosed to the cable system of an amusement park’s Sky Ride, the aerial cable cars that span the San Marcos River; the cable severs, jerking Diaz’s head from his body and sending it flying through the treetops. The Sky Ride cars plummet, killing or injuring many of the unlucky folks on board—which raises the possibility that one of them, not Diaz, might’ve been the intended target. Garcia’s ensuing investigation benefits from Hewitt’s knowledge of police work and Texas: He notes that the assassin was sweating profusely inside an over-air-conditioned local restaurant before the murder, then used a wood block made of ironwood, found only in South Texas and Mexico, and finally tied Diaz to the cable using an oil-field roughneck’s knot. He also gives Garcia authentic Texan heritage, from his great-great-grandfather’s role in the Battle of the Alamo to his brother Joe’s Chicano dialect. But politics can muddy the plot, too: It’s difficult to gauge whether the mystery is really about Diaz or about some other misdeed, and it’s baffling when the clues take shape as something much more pedestrian than what Hewitt had originally orchestrated. Secondary characters can feel stereotypical (for example, the members of one no-good trio are named Anglo, Hispanic and Black), and sudden shifts from one scene to another can be jarring, as can rampant grammatical mistakes.
An uneven Tex-Mex mystery, though the hero has plenty to offer.