In this debut novel from Frank Hayes, we are introduced to Virgil Dalton, past forty and a life-long resident of the Southwestern town of Hayward, where he has been sheriff for over a dozen years. The run-of-the-mill crimes with which Virgil and his mentee and deputy, Jimmy, usually have to handle bear no relation to Virgil’s discovery of the body of a dead man, also a long-time resident and known and well-liked by all (or nearly all, it would appear). The man had not been seen since his usual night drinking at the Black Bull, a local drinking establishment/roadhouse frequented by most of the residents, Virgil included.
Hayward, the county seat, has a small population and one traffic light to brag about, and as with many such towns near the Mexican border, harbors a common prejudice against those born in Mexico, in the US illegally or deemed “half-breeds” among their less enlightened neighbors. Virgil himself is a half-breed, although indigenous and with a good education, including a law degree.
The murder does not appear to Virgil to have been a random act, and Virgil becomes more and more convinced there is much more to it than a single lethal act, and determines to try to get to the bottom of what motivated the crime. “For him, this investigation had suddenly turned into more than he had expected, more than just a killing in a small town.”
The writing is beautiful, e.g., the night when the dead man’s body is found is, for Virgil, an evening when “the earth held its breath in expectation,” and he has “an innate sense of premonition. When he had ignored such thoughts, or passed them off as coincidence, they had always come back to haunt him, so he had learned to live with them. Never confortably. Always reluctantly.” He looks up at “a night sky that couldn’t hold another star. . . He breathed deep the smells of the ranch . . . the mixed perfume was more than green grass, cut hay, and manure. It was home.” The author can take his place in the landscape of the Far West staked out by Tony Hillerman and, more recently, his daughter, Anne Hillerman, as well as Craig Johnson.
“Death at the Black Bull is a very satisfying read, and is recommended....Continua