Beware your assumptions
January 9, 2012
I’ll start with the ending, but I’m not going to reveal what happens in this story about Deputy Sheriff Ogden Walker, who “wouldn’t know a clue if it jumped up and bit him on his pecker.” I’m going to tell you that I got angry. Reading the last two pages of this triple murder mystery, I thought I’d been duped. I thought the author, Percival Everett, had written this suspenseful story about an unusual detective, exploring issues of racism, loyalty, identity and a purposed life – all the while keeping me guessing about who committed the murders — and then he writes a conclusion that’s unbelievable and feels like a smack in the face.
Call me frustrated and furious, except a persistent internal voice suggested I might have missed something along the way. Assumption is a literary class act, and I couldn’t imagine Everett would blow off the ending. It just didn’t fit. So I went back through the book looking for clues to herald the surprise ending, and I found them, demonstrating Everett’s written not only a remarkable crime novel off the typical grid, but also a cautionary message about the danger of assumption.
Deputy Sheriff Ogden Walker, a former employee of the U.S. Military Police, works for Sheriff Bucky Paz in the fictional “middle of no place” Plata County, New Mexico. His boss gives him free rein, despite Walker’s unorthodox ways, but then the quirky but reliable Sheriff Paz is pretty much into being left alone to eat his doughnuts. Don’t think for a minute we’re getting a tired policeman-doughnut cliché here. The Mrs. sends a nutritional bag of carrots to the office with her large hubby to replace the high calorie sweets, and the play between the foods and the frustrated fat man, who’s always looking for the easy button, is a trip. So, too, is Walker’s sharp wit, frequently given.
The murdered dead that turn up in this book include a bigoted woman no one much liked, two prostitutes who try to scam their pimp and a game and fish patrolman. Walker seems to get strung along while solving them, but his nose to the trail inevitably unfolds the mysteries that have clever, unpredictable twists and turns. He ends up in bars and brothels in Denver, a car dealership in Albuquerque and a nursing home in Tempe in search of answers, as well as the surrounding canyons and desert. This emotionally detached deputy rarely carries his gun and appears undaunted by threatening situations. Some say he has a messiah complex.
The crimes occur in three loosely connected sections of the book. You’ll have to read very carefully not to be whomped with the ending like I was. Although, even if you do read carefully, you’ll still be whomped, I’m sure, because Everett is playing a lot of cards in this well-crafted novel. Each one is designed to fit into a fanned out, calculated display that illustrates nothing makes sense in the way we perceive it to make sense. And that ending? Our thoughts and beliefs about people we know may not be their reality. It’s a kind of assumption that messed with me in the end. (Point made via experience.) Bravo, Mr. Everett.