Tales of sagebrush and murder: A review of Assumption

 

Assumption
Percival Everett
272 pages, softcover: $15.
Graywolf Press, October.

There aren't nearly enough books set in New Mexico. With its cinematic lighting and uniquely off-kilter characters, the state should grow great novels as plentifully as chiles. Strangely, though, it hasn't. California author Percival Everett sets out to change that with Assumption, a trilogy of mysteries starring Ogden Walker, a sheriff's deputy in a fictional county near Taos. Mixing the spare sentences and gruff tones of a pulp detective novel with the painted topography of the Enchanted Circle, Everett evokes the area's seamy side, the dark truths hidden on sagebrush-pocked plateaus.

A seemingly unwitting participant in his own life, Ogden is an outsider in a land of outsiders. His father, who was black, "moved to New Mexico from Maryland because there were fewer people and so, necessarily, fewer white people. He hated white people, but not enough to refrain from marrying one, Ogden's mother." At odds with himself from the start -- "it was hard for a son to think that his father hated half of him" -- Ogden has grown into the sort of guy who trudges through life not quite certain how he got there. His career as a cop is no exception.

Though small-town life should be slow and quiet, mysteries -- and bodies -- begin to pile up in Ogden's jurisdiction. He dutifully tracks the culprits, following every rinkydink piece of evidence, regardless of what dangerous dive bar, remote hunting cabin, or mountainside meth lab might lie in his path. But even as his obsessive quests lead him to forego sleep, square meals, and visits to his widowed mother, it's clear he'd rather be fishing. "He didn't really want to see dead people," Everett writes. "It made him queasy to see dead people, but damn if it wasn't interesting."

Tagging along with Ogden makes for a great read, and Assumption is a page-turner ­-- as much for the quintessentially New Mexican kooks who populate it as for the hard-boiled prose. "This was not going well," writes Everett as Ogden, hot on the trail of a Denver-based hooker, runs into a group of heavily tattooed thugs. "Ogden was glad he wasn't wearing his sidearm. Nothing gets you shot faster than having a gun, he always thought." It all ends, though, in an unsettling, things-ain't-what-they-seem denouement that colors the rest of the book.

Everett's ambitions are loftier than merely setting a dime detective loose in the arroyo; the book glances at larger themes -- race, ennui, diminished expectations.

The result isn't flawless, and the ending may not sit well with some. But the scenes and scenery that come before will stay with you, lingering like the smell of rain after a high-desert storm.

High Country News Classifieds
  • SECLUDED COLORADO HIDEAWAY
    This passive solar home sits on 2 lots and offers an abundance of privacy and views while being only 15 minutes to downtown Buena Vista....
  • COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR
    Introduction: Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization with offices located in Kanab and Escalante, Utah. We are committed to the conservation...
  • CARETAKER
    2.0 acre homestead needing year-round caretaker in NE Oregon. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • MEMBERSHIP MANAGER
    For more information visit www. wyofile.com/careers/
  • THRIVING LOCAL HEALTH FOOD STORE FOR SALE
    Turn-key business opportunity. Successful well established business with room to grow. Excellent highway visibility.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    For more information, visit www.wyofile.com/careers/
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a high-impact, nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 27-year legacy using...
  • PROJECT MANAGER
    Position Summary Join our Team at the New Mexico Land Conservancy! We're seeking a Project Manager who will work to protect land and water across...
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT AND MARKETING
    High Country News seeks a Director of Product and Marketing to join our senior team during an exciting chapter of innovation and growth. This individual...
  • WILDLIFE HAVEN
    Beautiful acreage with Teton Creek flowing through it. Springs and ponds, lots of trees, moose and deer. Property has barn. Easy access. approx. 33 acres.
  • ARIZONA CONSERVATION CORPS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Arizona Conservation Corps is seeking a Program Director in Flagstaff or Tucson
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...