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
  • SEASONAL SAN JUAN RANGERS
    Seeking experienced crew members to patrol Colorado's most iconic mountain wilderness.
  • ENDANGERED SPECIES STAFF SCIENTIST
    The Center for Biological Diversity seeks a staff scientist to advocate for the conservation of endangered species. General position overview: The position will involve working...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY - ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH PROGRAM
    The Center for Biological Diversity - a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection of imperiled plants, animals and wild places - seeks a dynamic...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    The Center for Biological Diversity seeks a Staff Attorney to join our team of attorneys, scientists, campaigners who are working to protect America's public lands...
  • SOUTHWEST CONSERVATION ADVOCATE
    The Center for Biological Diversity seeks a Southwest Conservation Advocate to join our team of attorneys, scientists and campaigners who are working to protect America's...
  • OCEANS PROGRAM CAMPAIGNER
    The Center for Biological Diversity seeks an experienced campaigner for its oceans program. The aim of the position is to campaign for the protection of...
  • CLIMATE LAW INSTITUTE ATTORNEY
    The Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute is looking to add an attorney to its team and will consider applicants at both staff attorney...
  • FULL-TIME CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR
    The Center for Biological Diversity seeks a full-time Campaign Director in our Climate Law Institute to join our campaign for progressive, urgent government action to...
  • WESTERN WATER PROJECT MANAGER
    National Wildlife Federation is hiring NM-based position focused on riparian corridors, watershed health. Learn more and apply online: https://www.nwf.org/about-us/careers
  • ASSOCIATE PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Position Title: Associate Program Director Location: New Mexico; flexible in state Position reports to: Senior Program Director Position Closes: March 13, 2020 GENERAL DESCRIPTION: The...
  • DEAN, W. A. FRANKE COLLEGE OF FORESTRY AND CONSERVATION, UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA
    Dean, W. A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, apply http://bit.ly/2548umjobs. AA/EEO/ADA/Veterans Preference Employer
  • GRAPHIC DESIGNER
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks a creative and driven graphic design professional to design high quality print and digital collateral. The Graphic Designer will bring...
  • STEWARDSHIP SPECIALIST
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks experienced person to manage its 133 conservation easements in south-central Colorado.
  • CAMPAIGN REPRESENTATIVE
    Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign is hiring an experienced campaigner to lead our work challenging the oil and fracked gas industry on the Gulf...
  • AG LANDS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Oregon Agricultural Trust (OAT) seeks passionate relationship builder experienced in coordinating agricultural conservation easement transactions.
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • FINANCE DIRECTOR
    Mountain Studies Inst (MSI) is hiring 4+ positions: Finance Director; Coms/Engagmnt Mngr; Dev/Engagmnt Dir; Americorps vol
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND ENGAGEMENT MANAGER
    Mountain Studies Inst (MSI) is hiring 4+ positions: Finance Director; Dev/Engagement Dir; Coms/Engagement Mngr; & Americorps volunteer
  • SEASONAL TRAIL CREW LEADERS
    Lead the nation's premier volunteer-based trail crew programs on the spectacular Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. This is a great career-building opportunity for rising professionals....
  • ORGANIZING AND TRAINING COORDINATOR
    Is this your dream job? Are you looking to join a nationally recognized organizing network, live in a spectacular part of the West, and work...