Bean, a stream surveyor for the U.S. Forest Service, takes his lawyer friend Justin hiking through the Navarro River area of Southern California. The idea is get Justin away from the clamor of urban life and take his mind off of his separation from his wife, Medley. Their tale begins at the scorched remains of a cabin, where a man named Crawfurd once lived. The man survived for decades as a hermit, but to Bean’s deep regret, he recently died. Without the pleasure of the older man’s company, Justin and Bean (and his dog, Alice) move on, through a chaparral-covered landscape once occupied by the Chumash Indians. Suddenly, a rattlesnake bites Bean, causing him to stumble among rocks and break his leg. Justin is stunned, and waits for the snake to leave before treating Bean’s bites and setting the broken bone. He then carries his friend to their camp, where they agree that Justin will hike downstream for help from the ranger station. The trek, however, is fraught with perilous river narrows. Do the friends stand a chance of seeing each other again? Debut author Long captures the Navarro valley’s majestic aura on every page: “The bottoms of the canyons were rich green, the result of the alder, sycamore, and cottonwood that grew in the wetter recesses folded between the ridges.” After the snake bites Bean, Long creates tension that most thriller writers would envy; when Justin must drain the venom, for example, he wonders “whether he was saving or killing his friend.” The story also features spirit guides, Xewe and Saint Lucy, and their presence is a fascinating aspect of the narrative, but the author uses them sparingly. Instead, he prefers flashbacks into Bean’s and Justin’s pasts, and a few too many of these slow the pace. However, most of the novel is concerned with loftier subjects, such as how to attain true happiness, and how not to let mistakes weigh heavily on the soul.
A well-rounded, ambitious adventure tale.