In this tragicomic tale, a group of friends at a dude ranch in the high desert of California gets caught up in the sprawling web of a serial killer.
Justin Gates and his friends Gary and Terry find themselves at the Hesperia Dude Ranch as hired help under the auspices of Phil Jacobson, a kind but quirky man. Fueled by hormones and friendly competition, the boys amuse themselves with teenage camaraderie and lots of talk about the local skirts. Things turn grisly, though, as dead bodies start getting discovered; they’re all women who have been strangled, mutilated and dumped in public places. What follows is a complex romp through the lives of a handful of suspects, including a local principal involved in an affair and a no-good shopkeeper. With the guidance of Sheriff Carter, local law enforcement agents pursue every lead they can find, but the clues are often murky and sometimes seemingly contradictory. The novel is raunchy and hilarious but also full of pathos, as a number of arresting chapters offer a substantial view into the horrific, scarring upbringing of Dante Castleberg, the killer on the loose. In his lively, tonally diverse read, author Smith craftily reveals further details about the circumstances of the murders, allowing readers to feel as though they’re part of the investigation. The dialogue is eminently believable; Smith’s insights into the cocky, winner-take-all attitudes of adolescent boys—the kind who, in just one of the book’s zany incidents, would organize a drag race between a horse and a car—are piercingly accurate and often laugh-out-loud funny. None of this detracts, however, from the seriousness of the book’s main theme: terror inflicted on a community by a man who, in turn, has suffered terror at the hands of those who were supposed to care for him.
An entertaining, rough-and-tumble whodunit with a mix of smiles and grimaces.