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BAD COUNTRY by C.B. McKenzie: Book Review

Talk about your hard-boiled mysteries.  Bad Country is one of the hardest-boiled ones I’ve read in a long time.

From the name Montana Estates, one might think it was a community of elegant houses, perhaps McMansions, on a scenic site in a gated community of Tucson.  Well, one would be quite wrong.  In reality, this section of the city is called El Hoyo, or The Hole.  It’s actually on the outskirts of Tucson, so far out that no one wants to acknowledge it.  It’s an almost-empty trailer park, with dirt roads, a never-completed nine-hole golf course, and piles of cinder blocks at the entrance.  Oh yes, also at the entrance is a corpse lying in a pool of blood.

Rodeo Grace Garnet is the only tenant of Montana Estates, unless you count his elderly dog.  A former rodeo champion, Rodeo (his given name) ekes out a living as a private detective.  But he has no idea about the spurt of murders that is going on in and around Los Jarros County.  There have been three in the last week, including the one by his front door, definitely too high a body count for such a sparsely populated area.

Rodeo’s friend Luis Azul Encarnacion, owner of the Twin Arrows Trading Post that Rodeo frequents, has a job for the private eye.  A cowboy has found the body of a teenage boy near a riverbed.  No one knows if the boy, Samuel Rocha, fell off the nearby bridge or was shot off, and the boy’s grandmother wants Rodeo to investigate.  Interestingly, though, Mrs. Rocha doesn’t appear very upset about her grandson’s death, so Rodeo is not quite sure why he’s being hired.  However, he desperately needs a job, so he accepts his new client and begins his investigation.

The cast of characters in Bad Country reads like a list of people you’d rather not know.  There’s Romeo’s former girlfriend Sirena Rae, a stripper with some severe mental health issues; her father, “Apache” Ray Molina, an ageing sheriff with too many dead bodies in his county; Ted Anderton, a member of the Arizona Department of Public Safety Highway Patrol, who can’t seem to forget or forgive that Romeo beat an escaped criminal to death several years ago; and Ronald Rocha, a psychopathic gunslinger determined to avenge the death of his cousin Samuel.

Definitely not for fans of cozy mysteries, Bad Country portrays a poor, rough part of Arizona, far from the natural beauty of the Grand Canyon or the elegant golf resorts of Scottsdale that the tourists see.  Life in Los Jarros county is, for most of its inhabitants, a struggle against poverty, drugs, and crime.  And Rodeo Garnet is in the midst of it all.

C. B. McKenzie has written a noir novel in gritty, street-wise prose.  No wonder Bad Country won the Tony Hillerman Prize for best first novel set in the southwest.  It’s an honor that is well-deserved.

You can read more about C. B. McKenzie at this web site.!mckenzie/c6yx.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.