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Bookmonger: Seattle mystery writer calls up desert Southwest

“High Country Nocturne”by Jon Talton

Jon Talton is a Seattle-based newspaperman and novelist today, but as a fourth generation Arizonan, his heart remains in the desert. He makes this abundantly clear in his David Mapstone mystery series, the eighth installment of which is now available in bookstores.

“High County Nocturne” sees cop-turned-historian Mapstone teamed up in business with his friend Mike Peralta. The former Maricopa County Sheriff, who is Hispanic, has lost an election to opponent Chris Melton, who won by having his surrogates wage a misinformation campaign around the issue of illegal immigration.

Mapstone and Peralta now run a private investigation firm in Phoenix that has been humming along nicely until Peralta suddenly vanishes in connection with a violent jewel heist – and the evening news touts him as the prime suspect.

Mapstone is determined to find his partner and prove his innocence. Mapstone’s wife, Lindsey, is a hacker who has worked at the highest levels of government, and she promises to look into the case, too.

But then everything goes awry.

Mapstone is approached by Sheriff (“call me Chris”) Melton, who “requests” that he return to the department as a deputy to solve a particularly delicate cold case. It was a dead-end case that Mapstone dealt with years ago as a rookie, but a new development has come up that involves one of Melton’s biggest campaign backers. Mapstone has no interest in helping until “Chris” informs him that Lindsey is under federal investigation for treason and he can use his connections to make the feds go easy on her – but only if Mapstone takes on the cold case.

At the same time, as Mapstone tries to figure out Peralta’s whereabouts, an assassin whose specialty is “suiciding” her victims targets our protagonist – and Lindsey gets caught in the fray.

Talton creates a maze of a plot that involves the FBI, DEA, Russian mafia, Mexican cartels, a rogue Mountie, special agents deeply under cover, corrupt law enforcement officials, colorful old-timers, and the nouveau riche of Phoenix.

Not only does Talton devise a very complicated plot structure, he also lavishes care in character development. Those who have read previous Mapstone books will have a better sense of the complex relationships already in place, but Talton does a fair enough job of bringing newcomers to the series up to speed. And the assassin he conceives for this book is worthy of a role in a James Bond movie – fascinating and close to indomitable.

Some scenes verge into territory too gruesome for this reader. But there was much to enjoy in Talton’s beautifully written literary lamentations for Phoenix the way it used to be. This is where the writer really shines – recreating for us in word pictures a saner pace of life, a more gracious architecture, and a more expansive landscape. It may be a different corner of the country, but the native Southwesterner captures the helplessness we native Northwesterners often feel about the desecration of the landscape and the thoughtless development we’ve witnessed right here.

The Bookmonger review appears each week in Take Five. For more entertainment, go to BellinghamHerald.com/entertainment.

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