It’s work he was born to and he knows it, but now, after 32 years, Bill Gastner, sheriff of Posadas County, New Mexico, is eager to sing his swan song.
He’s 70, he’s lost a step, gained a gut, and is visibly breath-challenged when climbing hills he used to take at a gallop. Time to let his friend and undersheriff, Bobby Torrez, claim the big desk and swivel chair to match. This being crime fiction, however, that can’t happen without a last hurrah. So there’s Bill in one of his favorite nooks on Santa Lucia Peak, contentedly contemplating a star-filled sky and a life reasonably well spent, when his parked police car is “T-boned” by a misdirected compact. At the wheel is one Matt Baca, teenager on a spree. Not really what you want to happen three days before the emancipating election. And things get worse. Young Matt is accidentally killed trying to escape arrest. And his father is killed in an apparent homicide. Soon enough, unavoidable signs of official corruption and cover-up become evident, involving people Bill likes. On the domestic front, too, unexpected complications mount. But complications are the staples of Bill Gastner’s existence (Dead Weight, 2000, etc.), and he handles these in a style he’s fine-tuned, remaining, as always, unhurried, unflapped, and unswervable when he thinks he’s right.
Nice, easygoing, entirely literate prose, and if the approach is a bit too “cozy” for some tastes, others will delight in dollops of local color and in Sheriff Bill, of course, who may well be the most endearing small-town lawman ever.