Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sex, Surprise, and a modern-day Matt Dillon

It’s 1952, and the residents of the small Eastern Oregon town of Barnesville don’t have much to do except jump in bed with their neighbors. The town is a sexual pressure-cooker, driving the behavior of just about everyone - including Sheriff Matt Harkness, who’s having an affair with the judge’s wife.

In fact, Harkness is doing that very thing when he gets the call that two teenagers have gone missing. One is the popular high-school quarterback, son of a rich family. The other is an Okie girl whose family lives in a one-room shack.

As a fictional character, Matt Harkness is full of surprises. His first-person narration packs plenty of humor and personality - sort of like a modern-day Matt Dillon - making him immediately likeable. But just when you think you know what he’s going to do next, he does something else - and danged if it isn’t always just the right thing. And the surprises just keep on coming, revealing new depths to his character right up to the end.

Harkness is a man of his times, shaped for both good and bad by his experiences in WWII. He deals with issues like bigotry and sexual suppression in a believable manner. We come to know him as a good man, but never a self-righteous one. The pursuit of justice is his job, and he’s good at it, but he never loses sight of where his next woman, or his next drink, is coming from.

As a modern-day Western sheriff, Harkness has a horse of sorts - a ‘39 Chevy pickup he calls Hoopie, and a sidekick - a neurotic wiener dog named Addison. He’s forced to deal with some horrific murders, one of which strikes very close to home, before finally confronting the killer man-to-man on the High Desert.

This is author Michael Bigham’s first novel, and he’s done a heck of a job. The plot twists are always unexpected, but they always satisfy. By the time you reach the end, I predict you’ll be a fan of both Bigham and Harkness, and looking forward to the next book in the series.

1 comment:

Oscar Case said...

Sounds like a page-turner. Good luck to Mr. Bigham!