Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bad Country by C.B. McKenzie

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Becky Brendel

What I Read: Bad Country by C.B. McKenzie

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: Rodeo Garnet is a man with an old dog. He's also a private investigator who prefers to live in an area of Arizona known to locals as "the Hole", and he's just come home from vacation to find a dead body down the street from his house. The local sheriff has his hands full with a string of seemingly-unrelated murders in the area, but it's none of Rodeo's business until one of the victims' grandmothers asks him to find out who killed her grandson. Rodeo slowly begins to realize that all of the bad things happening in this bad country are interrelated - and hit closer to home than he'd thought.

What I Thought: This book is an excellent example of noir fiction - a story that paints the world as simultaneously bleak and beautiful (there is a sense of poetry in all the run-down, dried-up scenery - and people - that Rodeo meets). It's not a tearjerker, but it's unsettling, haunting, and frequently very funny. Rodeo makes an ideal noir/hardboiled detective, in that he plays his cards close to his chest and is a good person without being a nice one. His relationship with his dog also humanizes him, often through small details; Rodeo's own diet consists primarily of spoonfuls of whiskey and Spaghetti-Os, but he makes sure his dog takes its medications on time. McKenzie spends a lot of time on this attention to detail. Sometimes this works against him, as he has a habit of listing every single object, including their brand names, when Rodeo packs his bags, but for the most part it makes the Southwest setting come alive.

The main whodunit - "if these are serial murders, who's the culprit?" - is a bit underwhelming, and once the culprit's identity is revealed, that plotline feels more like a nod to noir tropes than anything else. But even the mystery of what happened to Rodeo's client's grandson takes a backseat to evoking a sense of place. Rodeo encounters people from all walks of life in his investigation, and while none of them are traditional paragons of virtue (this is a hardboiled detective novel), and McKenzie falls into tropes several times, the novel refuses to judge its characters' lifestyles, preferring to let each of the characters judge themselves. Reading this book feels like driving through the Arizona desert. Don't read it to beat the Yuma heat - but do read it for a thoughtful musing on an area much like this one, both the good and the bad.

Readalikes: Anything by Raymond Chandler, as an obligatory mention of noir fiction; Bill Pronzini's Nameless Detective novels, for the same sense of bleakness evoked in Rodeo's world.

Or look this book up on NoveList!