Bales (But Then My Voice Changes: From Fundamentalist to Nonbeliever, 2012) makes his first foray into fiction with a first-person narrative of one man’s search to solve a family mystery.
Meet Perk Parker: age 60, 15 months widowed, children grown and out of the house, and recently retired from the law faculty of a small Northern California college. Perk embarks on a mission to discover what happened to his father, who disappeared 50 years ago. In 1943, Lyle Parker was enticed by his longtime buddy Dwayne Breedlove to join him in his hunt for hidden Spanish gold. Off they went in Breedlove’s ’38 Chevy pickup truck, never to be seen again. Rumors circulated. The pickup was detected in a ravine a few weeks after they began their adventure; and two years after that, some kids found Breedlove’s body in an abandoned mine. Did Perk’s father kill him? Perk returns to Baca County, Colorado, determined to uncover the truth and, not incidentally, perhaps rekindle a friendship with his childhood sweetheart. As it turns out, it is fortunate that when he packed his 20-year-old Mustang for the journey, Perk decided to include his father’s old Winchester rifle and his brother Byron’s .32 revolver. There are scant clues to follow after half a century, but a dogged Perk tracks down every lead, taking readers on a picturesque tour of southeast Colorado, a bit of New Mexico, and a few incursions into Kansas. Perk details every step, and mile, of his adventure; each breakfast, lunch, and dinner; the exact attire of everyone he encounters; even the daily weather reports. If this meticulous attention to the ordinary occasionally becomes a bit tiresome, the literary device also works to create a well-defined character with all his idiosyncrasies. By the time Perk winds up in a life-or-death confrontation, readers should be right there with him. Bales’ prose is comfortably skillful. His linguistic focus is not on the clever twist of phrase but rather on the mechanics of carefully assembling the story blocks and maintaining momentum.
A pleasant read about a son investigating his father’s past that delivers a satisfying surprise revelation.