Tuesday, June 2, 2015

High Country Nocturne

By Jon Talton
Poisoned Pen Press     2015
317 pages     Mystery

"In the end, the truth was almost beside the point."

David Mapstone, the narrator of High Country Nocturne, is a complex man. He has a PhD in history and has taught at universities. He has been a deputy sheriff and a private detective. He is also born and bred in Arizona, and is remarkably opinionated about the course that his beloved city Phoenix has taken.

Mapstone has been working with his friend Mike Peralta for several years, first serving as a deputy when Peralta was sheriff, and then as his partner in a private investigation company. In this 8th novel featuring Mapstone, Peralta, and their wives, Peralta has gone missing following a heist of raw diamonds. As the story unfolds, we believe that Peralta is either deeply undercover or is dirty. In any case he is gone, and a dangerous woman is out to get him and the diamonds. She almost kills Mapstone and  gravely injures his wife, Lindsey. 

The reader learns a lot about the political system of Arizona, the corruption of the FBI, and the death of Mapstone's beloved Arizona. Frankly, figuring out where the diamonds are is almost secondary to all the other bits and pieces of information being bandied about. Talton is a talented storyteller, and he throws in enough complications to keep the reader on her toes. He also has comments and opinions about nearly everything; from corrupt politics, the militarization of police departments, immigration and racism, and the paving of the paradise that used to be Arizona.  Mapstone muses: "Phoenix is not my city now. It belongs to the millions of newcomers drawn here by sun, a pool in the backyard, and big wide freeways to drive. To the ones that bulldoze its history and throw down gravel and concrete where there once were flowers and oleanders and canopies of cottonwoods, ficus, and Arizona ash over open irrigation ditches. I hear the ghosts of the Hohokam and love it when it rains. Newcomers want championship golf and endless sunshine. They own this place now, not me."

Luckily for the reader, there is enough action and taut drama to keep the book on track, even as Mapstone is diverted by his rambling observations. His love for his wife is palpable. He also believes that he will find Peralta, the assassin, the dirty cops, and the diamonds. The action is nonstop. High Country Nocturne has a noirish feel to it, although Mapstone does not quite fit the image of a "hard-boiled" detective. He does have the same cynicism, and one can almost hear the organ playing in the background, just like it does behind Guy Noir on the Prairie Home Companion radio show.
There is a subplot about the widow of a rich land developer that almost seems superfluous to the novel. I'm not sure why Talton inserted it except that it is another indictment of the people that Talton believes ruined his state. All in all, High Country Nocturne is taut, well-written, with an action-packed conclusion.

Jon Talton's website.
An interview with Jon Talton in the Arizona Republic.

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