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
  • PLANNING & BUILDING DIRECTOR
    Searching for candidates with a Bachelor's Degree in Planning, Community Development, or a related field with 7 years' experience in land use planning forums, including...
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • NEWS DIRECTOR
    Based in the state capitol, Boise State Public Radio is the premier NPR affiliate in Idaho. With 18 transmitters and translators, it reaches 2/3rds of...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR MOJAVE DESERT LAND TRUST
    Organization Background: The Mojave Desert Land Trust (MDLT) is a non-profit 501(3)(c) organization, founded in 2006. Our mission is to protect the ecosystems of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is accepting applications for an Executive Director. This position will provide leadership to RSA, develop a fund raising plan, and effectively communicate...
  • EQUITY IN THE OUTDOORS COORDINATOR
    The Equity in the Outdoors Coordinator will lead community engagement, program implementation and development, and data collection for the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement (EVOM). EVOM...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a personable individual who is passionate about conservation to join our Sandpoint Field Office. The Community Engagement Assistant will...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION INTERN/ASSISTANT
    Actively introduce students to Experiential Education, Outdoor Recreation, and Sustainability while engaging and challenging them to learn and participate in these diverse opportunities. Room, board,...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATIVE MEDIA SERVICES
    In-depth investigations of polluters, lobbyists, regulators, elected officials and others focused on environmentally damaging projects in the U.S. and internationally. We specialize in mining projects,...
  • UNDEVELOPED 40 ACRES - SOUTHWEST COLORADO
    in beautiful Montezuma County.
  • TRUCK DRIVER
    Class A & B drivers, pass all DOT requirements and clean driving record
  • MARIA'S BOOKSHOP FOR SALE
    - Thriving Indie bookstore in the heart of Durango, Colorado. General bookstore with 34-year history as a community hub for Southwest region of CO. 1800...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details: