In DeSain’s new novel (Sheriff Gus, 2013, etc.), a small-town sheriff returns from vacation just in time to stop a murderer at home.
Gus barely gets off the cruise ship before there’s a call about trouble in his small California town. Gun control advocates are pushing for stricter legislation, and he’s expected to help fight them. He arrives home and finds a strange car in his driveway. Pausing not to cautiously enter his home but rather to hose off some irksome sidewalk chalk art created by a neighborhood child, Gus enters his unlocked home to find the interloper: his daughter, Samantha, who, after a four-year absence, has returned to announce that she’s gay. She wants to introduce her partner, Pat, an environmentalist; they’re getting married. Gus returns to work and soon is called to a murder scene at the local natural gas company. The victim is a woman, and the investigation reveals she was an environmentalist protestor—Pat? And the murders are just beginning. Unfortunately, the plot lacks depth, and many characters are stereotypes: crusading environmentalists, bumbling deputies, gun-worshipping right-wingers, etc. Sanctimonious Gus pokes fun at everyone else’s agenda, yet he himself is easily bribed and without a moral core. Gus’ beliefs are shallow, so when, for instance, he shifts his position on gay marriage—“Gay marriage or nothing! It is your choice”—it’s not quite believable. Occasionally, DeSain hints at humor, which Gus sorely needs to make him likable: When a thug bashes one of his knees, “It hurt. It was one of Gus’s two favorite knees.” But the humor turns tasteless when Gus fantasizes about winning the lottery and how he’d visit the children’s cancer hospital to buy caskets for the sick kids; he’d let them choose a color but buy them black ones because “they were, after all, dead and wouldn’t know the difference.” When the sheriff’s life is threatened, readers might not care. On top of that, the muddied writing has various spelling and grammar mistakes.
A disappointing mystery with a thoroughly unsympathetic hero.