A simple traffic stop is the first link in a chain of tragedy in Cobb’s novel of small-town political maneuvering.
Cobb (With Blood in Their Eyes, 2012, etc.) opens with a tense, impeccably rendered scene in which Ronny Forbert, the young patrolman at the heart of the book, stops a car being driven by Matt Laferiere, a former high school friend who has never given up his delinquent ways. When Ronny places Matt under arrest for drunken driving, a struggle ensues, and Matt is fatally struck by an oncoming car. Cobb wants to show how the outrage stemming from Matt’s death proves a useful tool with which the local power brokers push their own agenda. When he focuses on the police chief, Gordy Hawkins, a decent man trying to carry on in the face of his wife’s death, the pettiness that is his subject assumes a human face. But the precise observation of habit and motive necessary for this kind of social anatomy is lacking. The dead boy, Matt, is such a troublemaker that the sudden anger following his death feels forced, and Cobb is sloppy about establishing the motives of the pols who want to benefit from that anger and what it is they hope to gain. This isn’t helped by a last-minute twist that feels meant to stand in for the missing motivation.
Cobb has succeeded in portraying the dead-end dreariness of contemporary small-town American life, but that dreariness seems to have settled over the author as well as his characters.