The Devil’s Country is a popcorn book. Enjoyable and easy to consume. But not meaty or complex. And not entirely satisfying.
Arlo Baines isn’t looking for trouble. He is just looking for escape from the circumstances that led to the murder of his family. But he isn’t exactly in the mood to run from trouble. So, when the ex-Texas Ranger steps in between a woman on the run from a cult with her two small children and two gun thugs, he doesn’t step back. It isn’t hard to go “tumbling down into the black canyon at the center of [Arlo’s] being.”
Piedra Springs is a dying town. The closest hospital is two hours away in Midland, with nothing but West Texas dust between. The residents are amused to find an outsider in their town—what reason does anyone have for coming to Piedra Springs?—but questions are not encouraged. The wrong questions always come to a dead end.
Questions that concern the cult that woman fled.
The Devil’s Country tells two stories. One is Arlo investigating the mystery surrounding the woman in present time. The other is the story of how Arlo’s family came to die.
The first is enjoyable enough, but it isn’t much of a mystery. The Devil’s Country is situated more in the thriller space (the influence of Jack Reacher is obvious). The cult shows potential, but the story is told firmly from the POV of Arlo so we learn little of it. It is, in the end, truly horrific, but I didn’t feel its horror viscerally. There are a couple good action sequences early on, but things slow down later in the book.
I have a chronic aversion to flashbacks, but the second story is the better one. There is still something missing, but Arlo accepting responsibility for his own role in those events is the most impactful moment in the book.
Hunsicker is at his best describing Arlo’s grief:
“The grief came in waves. Sometimes it was just a few inches of water lapping on the shores of my mind, other times a tsunami.”
Funnily enough, this is my second book in the last several months about a disgraced Texas Ranger.
3 of 5 Stars.
More Review of Hunsicker’s Work:
Alexandra Wolfe on The Devil’s Country.
Alexandra Wolfe on Texas Sicario (Arlo Baines #2).
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