The seventh of Wortham’s Red River mysteries brings a pair of sinister intruders into Center Springs, Texas, in 1969 to launch a crime so monstrous that two of the town’s patriarchs will have to travel far from home to avenge it.
Pilot Curtis Gaines has been hired to spray water filled with what a pair of government agents calling themselves Mr. Brown and Mr. Green tell him is water infused with “microscopic metal particles our scientists call ‘Gold Dust’ " over Lamar County. In fact, the Gold Dust is actually a combination of bacillus globigii and bacillus subtilis. Though it’s thought to be harmless, it actually has a toxic effect on anybody frail and elderly, like centenarian elevator operator Jules Benton, or anybody with asthma, like Constable Ned Parker’s teenage grandson Top, or anybody whose system has been weakened by a recent surgery, like Curtis himself. Apart from the sudden outbreak of mysterious illnesses, Ned, along with Deputy Anna Sloan and retired Texas Ranger Tom Bell, recently returned from a sojourn in Mexico thought to have left him dead, has to contend with a pair of murderous cattle rustlers and the rumor, spitefully initiated by Top’s nearly identical female cousin, Pepper, that there’s a treasure in gold buried close by. While Wortham (Unraveled, 2016, etc.) is still introducing more relatives and hangers-on to the Parkers in Center Springs, Ned, infuriated as his grandson hovers near death, decides to go directly to the CIA in Washington to get vengeance. Tom joins him on the 1,200-mile drive and the unlikely game of polecat-and-mouse that unfolds in a series of developments as preposterous as they are richly enjoyable.
The result reads like a stranger-than-strange collaboration between Lee Child, handling the assault on the CIA with baleful directness, and Steven F. Havill, genially reporting on the regulars back home.