Royo County, California, is one of those dusty deadspots nowhere -- most likely you'd be just traveling through -- and Robert Roper doesn't spend too long there (130 pages), only long enough to impress you with his unmistakable talent. Parts of this work will appear in Works in Progress and all of it is loosely strung together as characters come and go, usually to some unexpected and dreadful end. Like Bokaw, a farmer, who has a special touch with animals (a prize bull who has lost his enterprise). Bokaw has one good eye and one bad one but neither foresees that he will be riddled by bullets to be chewed up by his legion of cats. Or take Sheriff Noodles Pisco who had killed a Mexican -- stomped to death by eight young men. Or Ed Gray, the trucker with one leg, a dour husband who returns home not to his unloving, departing wife but to rape a child. Violence is not only the zinger to these episodes -- it seems to streak the ordinary existence around here with the startling unpredictability of heat lightning. But Royo County has more than that going for it -- humor and fine patches of description. Roper's an easy writer, a marvelously easy writer who holds this part of the world in his hand and brings it all to sudden life.