by James Reasoner
The Book Place (2011)
originally published 2007
I don't know who came up with the term "redneck noir," but it's an apt one when applied to this southern thrillride.
Dust Devils starts off with a kind of strangers-in-the-night romance, as a young man Toby arrives on the doorstep of a lonely woman named Grace's farm looking for work. A bit wary at first, she hires him and a friendship begins, which quickly heats up. Then, the story takes one wild turn after another. I'm kind of hesitant to even discuss plot details beyond the first thirty pages, because a couple of jaw-droppers happen surprisingly early in this book.
Okay, here's one: After the two of them have sex for the first time, he snoops through her dresser drawers while she's sleeping and finds a gun. It's a bit out of character, but he finds more guns hidden about the house, and when Toby's about to confront her about it two gunmen arrive and reveal that she isn't who she says she is. Her names's not even Grace. She's really a bank robber, estranged from her cohorts who all believe she's sitting on the last big score they stole and double-crossed them to get it.
The book could almost be confused for a Harlequin romance in those first thirty pages or so, but it's all prelude. It's that slow, rattling ride to the top of the roller coaster before you take the first big plunge into a crazy cross-country journey. It's not all adrenaline-pumping action though, and some of what's there felt a bit tinny and form-fitted. Things happened at times a little too smoothly, even though the two are in constant danger. It felt, I suppose, like the stakes weren't as high as they should have been given their circumstances. Still, the action builds upon itself, as does the dynamic between the two as they are dragged deeper and deeper into criminal activity. And the ending is a powder keg.
There is one moment that irks me in the book, where Toby commits murder. He at least plays party to it, and given the way he was presented in the book up to that point, and the almost detached way in which he reacts to it, seemed really out of place. Albeit, the story mends itself before it's all over, so I really shouldn't gripe on that detail.
I was impressed with James' turn at the wheel when he wrote TheBlood Mesa for Lee Goldberg's and William Rabkin's Dead Man series (recently picked up for a publishing deal with Amazon's imprint, if I'm not mistaken), and Dust Devils shows why he was sought out to join the crew of authors on that series. I wasn't blown away by it, but it was a fun, quick read with as many twists as a sidewinder. And it's definitely worth checking out on Kindle right now, since it's being sold on the cheap.