In DeSain’s (Prometheus Ignored, 2012) latest novel, a corrupt sheriff facing re-election tracks a serial killer in a rural California county where mysterious forces hold sway.
Sheriff Gus has never had to do much to hold his place as the county’s top law enforcement officer. The local party bosses have always told him whom to investigate and when to turn a blind eye, and his compliance has earned him a career’s worth of unopposed elections. But times have changed: The old bosses are all dead or bankrupt, and a recent influx of left-leaning refugees from Los Angeles has given rise to Gus’ first-ever political opponent—a gym-toned, camera-ready young family man named Lance Daniels. Gus’ defeat seems certain until a beautiful young woman is found dead in a local cattle pasture, providing the aging sheriff with a rare chance to prove his mettle through some good old-fashioned police work. But when a second body turns up, Gus must decide to either follow the thread of truth through a dangerous maze of corrupt interests or settle for the kind of easy answers the local press can spin into election-night victory. DeSain does know a thing or two about crime writing, although the prose sometimes lacks literary style. He sets Gus’ odyssey in a convincingly multilayered social milieu populated by a slew of likely suspects, including a dissolute Hollywood producer, a drug cartel kingpin and a shadowy Julian Assange–inspired Internet activist obsessed with ushering in an age of “total information awareness.” Unfortunately, the real villain here is the novel’s penchant for broad social satire, which falls flat under a too-heavy hand and drags the novel down every time it starts picking up speed. The reflexive lampooning of the Internet age robs the novel’s climax of any punch it might have had. At its best, however, the novel succeeds as a charmingly suspenseful study of a corrupt cop who surprises himself by turning out to be pretty good at his job.
A promisingly complex detective story too often sidelined by editorializing.