Rocky Mountain noir

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The Long Slide
Blair Oliver and Peter Soliunas
200 pages, softcover: $20.
World Audience, Inc., 2010.

The first collaboration from authors Peter Soliunas and Blair Oliver, The Long Slide is at once a pulpy romp across the Rockies and a mash note to the works of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. But where those authors dealt with blackmail and big-city gangsters, Oliver and Soliunas set their story in a dying mining town where people are more likely to fall victim to small-town gossip and abandoned mineshafts.

Once upon a time, people came to the fictional town of Copper Falls, Colo., for a job at the copper mine or a soak in the mineral baths. But nowadays, the mine has downsized and the reputedly curative waters are described as carcinogenic in class-action lawsuits. As a reporter at the local newspaper, Henry Gavin has covered the hard times firsthand, though not always impartially: The paper's publisher, Clinton Ashcroft, is married to the mine's owner, a femme fatale named Beverly, and conflicts of interest often arise.

When we first meet Gavin, he's grown accustomed to his role as glorified copper-mine PR man -- after his wife left him, his journalistic ethics succumbed to his love for fly-fishing, scotch and a steady paycheck. However, when a former friend, now a muckraking environmentalist, and his son mysteriously go missing in the mountains after a fire at the mine, the Ashcrofts ask Gavin to track them down as part of a news assignment. Gavin accepts, sensing a chance for redemption, and the pace quickens as the book becomes a genre-busting noir road-novel.

The Long Slide is packed with ideas, but its serious themes of family and heartbreak are leavened with an eccentric supporting cast worthy of a Coen Brothers movie, not to mention an occasional gunfight. These details fuel the book's rapid-fire pacing, providing enough twists to keep readers enthralled as Gavin crosses the Rockies from Beaver Creek to Missoula, Mont., and back.

A hard-boiled entertainer with traces of true pathos, The Long Slide is funny, gritty and explicit, a successful collaboration from a pair of writers who clearly the love the West, despite its dirty secrets.